The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/03/12 at 07:50 AM ET
As the Detroit Red Wings embark upon a 4-game road trip (albeit one that will involve a trip back to Detroit to practice on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday) with a game against the Dallas Stars tonight (8 PM EST, FSD/Vers…I mean the NBC Sports Network outside Michigan/WXYT), they face something of a puzzling opponent. While the Wings hope to better their 49 points and climb to within two of the Western Conference-leading Blackhawks—and maintain their 2-point lead over the Blues—the up-and-down Stars have 43 points, but ESPN Dallas’s Richard Durrett points out that the Stars could vault over the fourth-place Wings into third in the West as they trail the Pacific Division leaders, the Sharks, by one…Despite having gone a rather pedestrian 7-and-6 in December.
A little confused? Good. Me, too, but the Western Conference standings are a bit wacky.
The Stars snapped a 2-game losing streak via a 4-2 win over the Bruins this past Saturday, more or less negating a 4-1 drubbing by the Blue Jackets, but they’ve had to place defenseman Sheldon Souray (ankle) on the IR, won’t have fellow d-man Phillip Larsen (concussion) and are already without Stephane Robidas (foot), yielding a particularly green defensive corps.
All of that being said, Stars coach Glenn Gulutzan told the Dallas News’s Mike Heika that the Stars learned all they need to take on and take out the Wings via a blueprint established in their win over the Bruins:
``The pressure is on the players,’’ Gulutzan said when asked how the Stars keep the intensity as they prepare to play Detroit on Tuesday. ``The pressure is on the players, because they showed what they can do when they’re engaged.’‘
In the win over Boston, Dallas dominated the shot clock (27-20), outhit the physical Bruins (36-15) and even won the battle of the faceoff circle (30-27) against the best faceoff team in hockey. Steve Ott was 11-4, Vernon Fiddler was 9-7 and Mike Ribeiro was 4-2 on faceoffs. The Stars came out strong, drew two penalties early, and scored on the power play to take control of the game. And that is the formula for victory on pretty much any night.
``Right from our faceoffs, you look at how Ott and Ribby and Fiddler took faceoffs in that game, to our physicality, to our hits, to our power play, to shooting the puck, everything was the way it was supposed to be,’’ Gulutzan said. ``Now the pressure is on them, because they’ve shown they can do it.’‘
Is that fair to the Stars? Is that a cop-out from the coaching staff on who has to provide the motivation? Honestly, it is fair, and it’s not a cop-out. While good coaches find subtle ways to push the right buttons, they can’t skate out on the ice. The players, eventually, have to provide the majority of the motivation. So can the Stars do that against Detroit on Tuesday.
``They’ve got another top level team, arguably the best team in the West, coming in here, and the pressure is on them,’’ Gulutzan said. ``That’s what I told them this morning. They’ve got to gear up and get ready to go. These types of games make you better, and hopefully we learned a little from the Boston game and we can carry that into the Detroit game.’‘
Even with Kari Lehtonen having returned from a groin injury, the Stars aren’t exactly stacked, but that doesn’t concern Gulutzan one bit:
``It goes back and forth, and every team goes through that,’’ Gulutzan said of the mental battles with confidence. ``Every team goes through it, but you have to find your consistency, and that’s the thing for us. Whatever mental edge we geared up to play Boston, that’s the mental edge we have to gear up for every game. You don’t want to just gear up for games on national TV, you have to bring that to your practice and your preparation , and that’s where I think we’re getting better.’‘
As the Dallas News tends to place half its articles in the “subscriber-only” section, I’ll have to suggest that you read Heika’s article about Jordan Benn joining his brother Jamie on the Stars’ roster via the Stars’ website’s feature on the same subject, but Heika did post a prospective Stars lineup in his Monday practice report...
Here are the lines the Stars were running in practice:
FIVE THINGS TO WATCH:
1. The Dallas Stars and Detroit Red Wings meet for their second of four contests this season. Detroit won the previous game against Dallas 2-5. After winning four consecutive games against the Red Wings, the Stars have dropped three of the last four contests against them.
2. The Stars enter Tuesday night’s game with a 101-101-35 all-time record against the Red Wings (.500). It is the only current NHL club that the Stars have a.500 record against. In fact, the Stars hold a .500 record-or-better against 20 of the league’s 30 NHL clubs. Seven of the teams the Stars have a sub-.500 record against reside in the Eastern Conference.
3. Defenseman Jordie Benn, older brother of current Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn, was recalled from the Texas Stars on Sunday. If both Benns play on Tuesday night, they will be the sixth set of brothers in team history and the third in Dallas Stars history to play a game together. They will also be the 48th set of brothers in NHL history to play game on the same team.
4. The Stars concluded the month of December with a 7-6-0 record (14 points) in 13 games. Dallas had 11 more power play opportunities in December than in November (equal number of games), converting on 8-of-49 chances (16.3%). The Stars lost 42 man games to injury in December, which was more than October and November combined (36 through first two months).
5. The Stars are 11 wins away from earning their 1,500th all-time franchise victory. When they do so, they will be the 10th team in the history of the NHL to accomplish that feat. 731 of those victories have come since the club moved to Texas in 1993. The Dallas Stars are now 27 wins away from tying their win total as the Minnesota North Stars (758).
WHO TO WATCH:
LOUI ERIKSSON has earned a point in each of his last seven games against the Detroit Red Wings (5 goals, 5 assists). He has also earned at least one point in 11 of his last 12 matchups against them (8 goals, 11 assists).
BRENDEN MORROW has four goals in his last five games against Detroit.
TREVOR DALEY logged a goal and two assists on Saturday night against the Boston Bruins. He is the only Dallas defenseman to score a goal since mid November (3 goals in that span).
Here’s Heika’s preview...
Key matchup: Jamie Benn vs. Pavel Datsyuk
The Stars feel Benn can compete with the NHL’s best centers. Datsyuk has 32 points (14 goals) in 31 games vs. the Stars. Benn has seven points (one goal) in eight games against the Wings.
Key stat: 9-11-0 Detroit’s road record, 19th best in the league.
Injuries: Detroit: C Darren Helm (groin), RW Tomas Holmstrom (groin) and RW Patrick Eaves (jaw) are out.
Dallas: D Sheldon Souray (ankle), D Stephane Robidas (foot), D Philip Larsen (concussion-like symptoms) and RW Tomas Vincour (knee) are out.
Notable: Jimmy Howard is expected to be in goal for Detroit. He is 23-9-1 with a 1.93 goals-against average and .929 save percentage. However, in eight games against the Stars, he is 3-4-1with a 2.37 GAA and .916 save percentage. ... Detroit D Nicklas Lidstrom has played 90 career games against the Stars. He has 60 points (15 goals) and is plus-33. ... In 20 games against Detroit, Stars forward Loui Eriksson has 17 points (nine goals) and is plus-5.
And NHL.com’s Brian Compton posted a game preview as well:
Big Story: Much of the early Vezina Trophy conversations this season have revolved around the likes of Tim Thomas and Henrik Lundqvist, but Jimmy Howard has been downright sensational for the Red Wings. Howard enters Tuesday’s action with a League-leading 23 wins after notching his fourth shutout of the season in Saturday’s 3-0 win against St. Louis.
“Every night you want to get up and play your best against the goalie at the other end,” said Howard, who started 13 of Detroit’s 15 games in December. “I think it’s more along the lines that we need the points. We can’t sit back and rest on anything. We need to continue to get points.”
Red Wings [team scope]: Detroit is in the thick of the Western Conference race, but it does need to be better on the road. While the Wings have won 12 straight at Joe Louis Arena, they begin this four-game road trip with an away record of just 9-11-0. They’ve dropped six of their last nine on the road.
Stars [team scope]: Dallas bounced back nicely from last Thursday’s disappointing 4-1 loss to Columbus by earning an impressive 4-2 victory against the Boston Bruins on Saturday. The Stars’ three-game homestand concludes with a tough task Tuesday night, as they’ll need to figure out a way to solve Howard, who has lowered his goals-against average to 1.93.
Who’s Hot: Wings center Pavel Datsyuk has 15 points in his last 12 games. … Stars forward Michael Ryder has goals in six of his last seven games, while Jamie Benn has 10 points in his last eight.
Stat Pack: Howard is just 3-4-1 lifetime against the Stars; however, his GAA is 2.37. … Dallas finished the calendar year of 2011 with a record of 41-31-8.
The Wings spent Monday focusing mostly on their injury situation—as Compton noted, Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom remained in Detroit to rest and/or have treatment on their groin injuries, and the Wings sent Chris Conner to Grand Rapids for the sake of playing time.
As a result, the Wings will continue to ice a fourth line consisting of Joakim Andersson, Cory Emmerton and Gustav Nyquist. MLive’s Ansar Khan also reported that Jimmy Howard will start tonight, and that we may see Jakub Kindl sooner or later.
Nicklas Lidstrom briefly addressed his team’s four-game road trip and their status as 2 games below .500 on the road while speaking to the Detroit Free Press’s Anthony Fenech...
After a relatively light first three months of the season, the Wings are entering the toughest part of their schedule, which starts tonight and marks the beginning of four straight road games.
“It’s going to be a lot,” Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “You knew it was going to catch up to you sooner or later, and I think that’s what it’s been doing the last couple of weeks.”
The team has a three-day break between its next two games, but Saturday’s game in Toronto is the first of 11 in 20 days before the All-Star break.
As well as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
After playing 10 of 15 games in December on the road, what does January have in store for the Red Wings? More of the same — at the beginning.
Tonight’s game in Dallas begins a stretch of six of nine games on the road.
“In October, we were home for two weeks straight and you knew it’s going to catch up to you,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “That’s what it’s been doing the last couple of weeks. You know with the schedule before the season when it’s going to be tough. We’re near the middle of the season and it’s hard, and it’s going to be a grind, but this is when points and wins are needed to stay in the race.”
Who posited the following game preview:
Faceoff: 8 tonight, American Airlines Center, Dallas
Outlook: The Red Wings are 1-0 against the Stars. … The teams play three times the next six weeks. … Both teams are on 6-4-0 runs.
For the record, three-day break between Tuesday’s game against Dallas and the “Fathers’ Trip” back-to-back slate (per MLive’s Ansar Khan) against Toronto and Chicago included, the Wings play 12 times over the course of 23 days, so they’re going to continue playing at a nearly every-other-day clip until the All-Star Break.
As of the middle of the night, the NHL has yet to post the referees’ assignments for tonight’s game.
Part II: At the World Junior Championships: As noted on Monday evening, only two of the Red Wings’ five prospects who are taking part in the World Junior Championships still have the chance to earn medals.
Teemu Pulkkinen registered a goal and an assist as Finland beat Slovakia 8-5. Tomas Jurco registered an assist despite playing through a hip flexor injury and Marek Tvrdon scored a goal for Slovakia, but in a particularly high-scoring tournament, the Finns have the best offense by far, and they simply steamrolled over the Slovaks.
Finland will play Sweden (and Wings prospect/Swedish defenseman Mattias Backman) in one of the semifinal games today (5 PM EST on the NHL Network U.S. and TSN), and Pulkkinen told IIHF.com’s Andrew Podnieks that the Finns understand that winning by pop-gun offense alone won’t cut it going forward, but for one night…
“This was a good game for us, a good victory,” said Teemu Pulkkinen. “We didn’t play as well as we should have, but we won the game, and that’s the only thing that matters.”
While Pulkkinen looked forward to ye olde “dream match-up” with Sweden while speaking to the Globe and Mail’s Alan Maki...
“Every game against Sweden is a big game,” insisted Teemu Pulkkinen, a member of the Granlund line that finished off Slovakia with eight points. “Hopefully, we can score some goals and play better defence. We can’t make any mistakes … just focus on our game.”
As well as Yahoo Sports’ Neate Sager...
“I think Sweden is the best country you can be playing against in this situation so I’m very happy to be playing against them,” right wing Teemu Pulkinnen said after Finland advanced with an 8-5 win over Slovakia at Scotiabank Saddledome. “We will need to do everything better, of course. They [Slovakia] scored five goals today and if Sweden scores five goals tomorrow we will lose the game. The defence has to be better.”
The way they’ve played and the terse post-game quotes suggest this could be a close contest on Tuesday. Both teams are deep up front; Finland’s been getting scoring from much more than the Granlund-Granlund-Pulkkinen line.
“We need all four lines to finish our games,” Pulkkinen said. “If you have only two lines scoring goals, that it’s tough to keep it up for the whole tournament.”
Tomas Jurco and the Slovaks could only look forward to their version of “medaling”—they’ll play the Czechs on Wednesday (at 9 PM EST, and neither the NHL Network U.S. nor TSN are televising the game)—while making a prediction about the Finland-Sweden match-up…
“They’re both fast and they all have good skills and it’s hard to compare them,” said Slovakia right wing Tomas Jurco, whose squad played both teams. “My guess would be Sweden will win 4-2, maybe, just a guess.”
And Jurco himself told Yahoo Sport’s Sunaya Sapurji that he’s playing hurt:
“In the first shift I got injured,” said the second round pick of the Detroit Red Wings. “I pulled my hip flexor, so I wasn’t sure if I was going to come back to the game but I wanted to help the guys.”
Jurco was so adamant about trying to help his native Slovakia advance to the semis that he ended up taking a regular shift and playing through the pain.
“I was supposed to come out just for power plays on the ice, but it felt a little bit better so I tried,” said the 19-year-old. “I wanted to help my team to win, but I think as you saw I wasn’t skating hard because it really hurt. I tried. I did everything I could and I’m really disappointed that it happened in a game like that.”
Slovakia will move on to play the loser of the second quarterfinal match between Russia and the Czech Republic. When asked whether he would continue to play at the tournament, Jurco—who plays for the QMJHL powerhouse Saint John Sea Dogs— did not sound optimistic.
“I don’t know, I might not,” said the forward who won a Memorial Cup with the Sea Dogs last year. “Once it gets really bad it takes lots of time to recover, so…”
And Jurco talked to NHL.com’s Aaron Vickers about what could have been:
The Slovaks, who scored four goals in the third period against Switzerland in a come-from-behind-victory to put them in the quarterfinal, pulled to within 6-4 at 4:59. Able to walk in off the point, Martin Daloga beat Sami Aittokallio with a shot that went underneath the Finnish goalie’s arm.
But when Matus Chovan was given a 5-minute major and a game misconduct with 8:41 remaining, it all but spelled the end of a second Slovakia comeback.
“It might be two minutes,” said Tomas Jurco, who helped orchestrate Slovakia’s comeback against the Swiss. “I’m not saying it was bad, but five minutes in the time of the game like that … it was kind of hard. I don’t want to comment on the referee, it was his job but for us it was really huge and kind of slowed us done. I think if there wouldn’t be a penalty, I think we were slowly coming back and you never know, we might score four goals in four minutes like we did [Saturday night].”
With ample power play time to work with, Finland struck twice. Joonas Donskoi’s shot from the point found the back of the net at 13:22. With a two-man advantage after a Peter Trska cross-checking penalty, Teemu Pulkkanen added his sixth of the tournament 47 seconds later to make it an 8-4 final.
Jurco’s been translating for his coach, and as such, here’s what the Slovaks are trying to focus on going forward:
Slovakian coach Ernest Bokros said he’s proud his team qualified for the medal round.
“The Slovak team reached the goals that they set before the tournament,” Bokros said through an interpreter. “Basically (playing) for fifth and sixth place is kind of like a medal for Slovakia.”
In the multimedia department, the Edmonton Journal’s Finland-Slovakia recap posted a 5-image gallery from the game, the Calgary Sun posted a 26-image gallery, Hockey’s Future posted videos of both Pulkkinen and Jurco speaking to the press, and TSN posted a 1:05 highlight clip from the game.
• In the other quarterfinal, Petr Mrazek had no room for error, and when you’re more or less being counted on to win the game for your team as a goalie, you can only do so much. Mrazek stopped 43 of the 45 shots he faced, but Russia defeated the Czechs 2-1 in overtime, and the Russians will advance to play Canada today (9 PM EST on the NHL Network U.S. and TSN).
The Calgary Herald’s Rita Mingo summarized the game thusly, noting that Canada’s Opponent happened to include a goaltending performance that was equal to Mrazek’s:
In a game which showcased two fabulous goaltending performances — by Russia’s Andrei Vasilevski and Czech Petr Mrazek — a slapper by defenceman Grigori Zheldakov at 1:30 of the extra period was the difference. The Russians withstood a Czech power play to start the overtime and shortly after the penalized Nikita Kucherov came back on the ice, Zheldakov took a shot — his team’s 45th — which eluded Mrazek.
The sound of puck on pad was the music of this night in what turned out to be an old-fashioned goaltenders’ duel. The Czechs fired 39 at the Russian net.
“Our goalie has played like this the whole tournament and I think he deserved to be best player from our team,” added Zheldakov, 19. “(Mrazek) played an excellent game. He’s human, in the end, and we were able to score.”
“We were so close to the semifinal,” sighed Mrazek, who has become a fan favourite in this tourney for his celebratory moves . . . but there would be no celebrating on this night. Everybody is mad and sad. They played hard and they scored one more goal than us. He (Vasilevski) made great saves and that was key for them today.”
Vasilevski didn’t come out to speak after the game as he was “focusing” on Tuesday’s encounter, according to officials. Mrazek, meanwhile, was lamenting what he deemed a missed penalty call when teammate Daniel Krejci went flying into the boards just seconds before Zheldakov’s winner.
“I don’t think it was a (good) goal because there was a high-stick and we were playing with just three guys, so that was pretty disappointing for us,” he complained.
“Those are excuses. We got scored on and that’s the bottom line,” [Czech assistant coach Jiri Fischer] pointed out. “It’s a pretty emotional tough loss for the boys. I was happy we got better in the second period. As the game went on, I thought we were adequate.”
IIHF.com’s Lucas Aykroyd raved about both goaltenders’ performances while telling the game’s story…
Seconds after Russia fired its first puck of the period at Mrazek, the Czechs grabbed a 1-0 lead at 7:16. Thomas Hertl fed Culek a cross-crease backhand pass, and he put it past Vasilevski’s outstretched left pad.
The Russians tied it up at 12:47 when Apalkov cruised into the Czech zone and unleashed a wicked wrister that glanced off Mrazek and whipped under the crossbar. The tide turned in Russia’s favour after the goal, and they nearly went up a goal when Sergei Barbashev slickly fed Apalkov right in front of Mrazek, who blocked the attempt.
With a minute left in the middle frame, the Russians got a 2-on-1, and Apalkov outwaited sprawling defenceman Jiri Riha before sending a cross-ice feed to Yaroslav Kosov, but Mrazek stretched out to make a jaw-dropping save. The crowd chanted “Go Czechs Go!”
At the start of the third, the Russians had another sweet chance when Alexander Khokhlachev followed up on a Kuznetsov rebound and the puck just skittered wide through the Czech crease.
Vasilevski made a fantastic right pad save a few minutes when Jaskin took Hert’s centering pass from behind the goal line and unleashed it quickly. At the other end, Yakupov tested Mrazek from close range to no avail.
Near the 12-minute mark of the third, Mrazek got a huge ovation when he absolutely robbed Kosov off a faceoff in the Czech end, picking off a lightning shot with his glove. He stoned Russia again when a circling Khokhlachev deftly centered the puck from behind the net to Kuznetsov, who shot it into the kneeling goalie’s pads. Filippi was foiled by a Grant Fuhr-like glove grab by Vasilevski with about two minutes left, and that got another big cheer. Would either of these netminders ever break?
The Czechs got their big chance to solve Vasilevski with 47 seconds left before the buzzer when Kucherov was sent off for high-sticking. It turned into a 4-on-3 advantage during 4-on-4 sudden-death overtime. But Russia killed it off, and Kucherov got sweet vindication by setting up the winner after he got out of the box.
As did the Calgary Sun’s Scott Fisher, who suggested that the first goal Mrazek gave up was the only blemish on a spectacular performance:
Mrazek wouldn’t say if Tuesday’s performance was his career-best.
“It was a pretty good game for everybody on the team,” Mrzaek said. “But we lost so we can’t talk about it being our best game. It’s difficult, but it’s just hockey. Sometimes you have to take it. They scored one more goal than us.”
Mrazek was magical in the first period and was the only reason the Czechs were still in the game. Apalkov sent a cross-ice pass to Sergei Barbashev, who crushed a one-timer just 30 seconds in, but Mrzaek slid across to make the save. It was a sign of things to come as he made a pair of left-pad beauties on a Russian powerplay, robbing Evgeni Kuznetsov and Pavel Kulikov.
Kuznetsov had another glorious opportunity on a clearcut breakaway. The Washington Capitals prospect made a nice deke and had Mrazek at his mercy, but the puck rolled at the last minute and he lifted it out of the rink.
The Czechs were much better in the second period and drew first blood when Culek buried Tomas Hertl’s cross-crease pass at the 7:16 mark. Daniel Krejci nearly made it two-zip when he danced through the entire Russian team but was turned aside by Vasilevski.
Mrazek, who had stood on his head, would love to have Russia’s first goal back. Apalkov skated over the blueline and put a wrister on net that eluded Mrazek on the blocker side. But the Czech ‘tender made up for it with perhaps the save of the tournament with a minute left in the period. Apalkov sent a cross-crease pass to Kosov on a 2-on-1, but Mrazek slid across to make a miraculous stop and send the teams to the dressing rooms tied 1-1.
The Edmonton Sun’s Terry Jones felt sympathy for the Czechs’ plight...
it was the Czechs who deserved a better fate. Seconds prior to the game-winner, Czech defenceman Daniel Krejci went down as if mortally wounded by a high stick and lay on the ice behind the goal line while Zheldakov made use of the man advantage in the high slot. If Krejci wasn’t dead, as one mixed zone media member said, then there was no excuse.
“The guy was on the ice and everybody will see high sticking on the highlights,” said Mrazek of the penalty which wasn’t called.
“I was happy,” said the Ottawa ‘67s goaltender of his tournament. “But I can’t talk about being happy right now. This is a very disappointing experience. Nobody talked about us before the tournament and we were one goal from getting into the medal round,” he said.
“It was sad,” said David Musil, the Edmonton Oilers’ draft pick who was looking forward to going against Canada. ‘Mrazek played so great. We should have won the game for him,” he said.
“I don’t know what to say,” said Jakub Celek. “Our goalie, he is good. But you don’t score when you don’t shoot the puck. You don’t shoot the puck in overtime, you don’t win. We had a lot of chances on the power play. We weren’t shooting the puck. We don’t score. For me it was very bad.”
And Musil echoed his remarks while speaking to NHL.com’s Mike G. Morreale:
Mrazek turned aside 16 shots and survived a pair of breakaway attempts by Kuznetsov in the opening period. Mrazek, property of the Detroit Red Wings, has yielded 13 goals on 177 shots in the tournament.
“Mrazek was good for the whole tournament … it would’ve been nice to win the game, not just for him but the whole country but it just didn’t happen,” Czech defenseman David Musil said. “We did something that hasn’t happened in the Czech Republic for a long time.”
The Czechs entered this year’s tournament coming off three straight seventh-place finishes at the WJC.
“There are plenty of positives,” Musil said. “We played a good game against the U.S. [a 5-2 victory] and we haven’t beaten them in a long time. But this is one of the key games and we lost it.”
Kuznetsov broke free with 8:40 remaining in the first but Mrazek got a blocker on the shot. The Russian captain and lone returnee from last year’s gold medal-winning team was sent in alone less than two minutes later only to have his backhand attempt from in tight skid across the crease with the goalie spread eagle in the paint.
“It’s a really tough game but I think we hung on pretty good,” Musil said. “We should’ve used the power play. We had a lot of power plays overall the whole tournament but we couldn’t score and that was key.”
Even Mrazek admitted to the Canadian Press that his team’s lack of scoring ability doomed its chances of advancing…
“In the first period we didn’t play hard, so we said something in the dressing room,” Mrazek said. “In the second period it was much better. In the first 15 minutes they didn’t have any chances and we had a couple and we scored just one goal.”
But he did take a bow as the Czechs’ player of the game and a crowd favorite…
Mrazek, who plays for the Ontario Hockey League’s Ottawa 67’s, stopped 43 of 45 shots he faced in the Czech net and received a standing ovation from the crowd of 16,581 fans.
“That’s an unreal thing if you lose and the people still stand up and say our names and stuff,” Mrazek said. “It would be much better if we won.”
And I guess that’s the positive going forward. Even in a game where many media members just took scouting notes of the Russians’ strengths and weaknesses while setting up a “dream” Canada-Russia semifinal, Mrazek’s performance over the course of the WJC earned him rave reviews and widespread recognition. Even the Vancouver Sun’s Cam Cole talked up Mrazek in his recap…
Mrazek was playing at the lower end of a severely tilted ice surface in the first period, when the Russians skated circles around his teammates and fired 16 shots at the Czech net. But the 19-year-old Ottawa 67s goalie, a fifth-round pick of (it figures) the Detroit Red Wings a year ago, was routinely superb, somehow keeping his team on even terms while denying gold-plated chances by Pavel Kulikov, Sergei Barbashev (on a breakaway), Nikita Gusev, Yevgeni Kuznetsov . . . well, pretty much everybody in Russian red.
The best chance, though, went begging when the impressive Kuznetsov, the lone holdover from last year’s championship team, took a 100-foot mid-air pass in stride while going backwards at the Czech blue-line and broke in alone, completely deking Mrazek only to fire a forehand shot wide, incredibly, from two feet away.
The rest of the Czechs decided to play, too, in the second, and were outshooting the Russians 9-0 when Jakub Culek broke the scoreless tie with their 10th shot of the period, converting a neat setup by Tomas Hertl.
Mrazek finally gave one up just after the game’s midpoint, a 45-foot snapshot by Danil Apalkov, using a defenceman as a screen, that found its way under the goalie’s blocker arm. But he redeemed himself with two wonderful left-pad saves in the final four minutes, the first on Apalkov and the second, an eye-popper near the end of the period on Yaroslav Kosov, after which the ever-demonstrative Mrazek seemed to give the Russians an “up yours” gesture with his glove hand.
As did Yahoo Sports’ Neate Sager in mentioning Mrazek as his second star of the night (and Sager and Yahoo Sports have been very balanced, so nix the, “It’s all about Canada” quip for the moment)...
No. 2 star: Petr Mrazek, Czech Republic: The 19-year-old who won over Alberta fans’ hearts turned in another brilliant game, stopping 43-of-45 Russian shots. The member of the OHL’s Ottawa 67’s kept the Czechs from getting their doors blown off early with 16 saves in the first period. The regulation-time Russian goal was probably one he should have had, since Danill Apalkov’s shot deflected in off Mrazek’s right pad, but how can you hold that against him when he stopped 8-10 shots that should have gone in? Mrazek’s best stops were both on Yaroslav Kosov, whom he denied on a 2-on-1 late in the second period and again on a one-timer off a faceoff.
And I suppose there’s something to be said for a little measure of redemption, as suggesteed by the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby (who did indeed write up a “Canada’s opponent defeats Czechs” recap):
Mrazek, a Detroit Red Wings prospect who plays junior for the Ottawa 67’s, was brilliant once again. The Saddledome crowd was cheering for the Czech Republic because of the flamboyant 19-year-old Mrazek, who often pumped his glove hand when he turned aside a good chance by the Russians. He made 43 saves as the Russians outshot their rivals 45-39. Eighty-four shots exhibited the type of game that both Mrazek and his Russian counterpart Andrei Vasilevski enjoyed. The only goals in regulation arrived in the second period. First, the Czechs went up 1-0 midway through the period and Russia tied the game a few shifts later.
Vasilevski will be just one of the components the Canadians will have difficulty in dealing with the Russian team. This team has speed, skill and explosiveness, although the Russians were frustrated by Mrazek all evening.
Mrazek would have loved to get another crack at Canada. When he left the Czech Republic and his club team Vikotvice in 2009 to play in Ottawa, the Czech hockey federation was not happy and vowed to exclude him from future national team play.
But with the help of Red Wings director of player development Jiri Fischer, also a Czech junior team assistant coach, the Czech hockey federation had a last-minute change of heart and allowed Mzarek to play this year. He certainly showed the Czech federation that it made the right decision.
That they did.
In the multimedia department, the Calgary Sun posted a 9-image gallery from the game, the Calgary Herald posted a 25-image gallery, and TSN posted a 2:01 highlight clip, a 1:31 post-game commentary clip (fast forward to the one-minute mark for Mrazek), a clip of a Mrazek toe save and a dedicated 2:25 clip talking about Mrazek’s “coming out party” posted prior to the game. I highly suggest that you watch the last clip as Jiri Fischer talks about Mrazek’s personality and the Czechs’ decision to include Mrazek on the team.
Part III: The Blues are still really mad about the Ian Cole suspension: As noted on Monday, the St. Louis Blues didn’t take Ian Cole’s three-game suspension for a check to Justin Abdelkader’s head very well, and this morning, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Dan O’Neill gives further voice to the Blues’ complaints while suggesting that there’s some favoritism toward the Red Wings involved in the omission of a really suspension-worthy hit:
“Obviously, they’re trying to take head hits out of the game,” said Cole, who will be eligible to return when the Blues play Jan. 10 at Montreal. “So you expect every situation like that to get reviewed. ... Getting knocked out of playing for three games stinks. But (Shanahan’s) got a job to do. I understand that. He’s trying to take head hits out of the game.”
That said, a problem that still seems to exist for the NHL is a lack of clarification and consistency in terms of what constitutes a punishable play. For instance, in a Detroit-St. Louis game five days earlier, the Red Wings’ Pavel Datsyuk got away entirely with a hit that clearly seemed to target the head of the Blues’ Barret Jackman. Is it just a coincidence that Datsyuk is among the elite players in the league?
If nothing else, the ambiguities underline the imprecise nature of bringing law and order to a fast-paced, physical game. Cole explained the body check on Abdelkader as a play he has made numerous times in his young hockey career.
“That read, I’ve made countless times in my life,” he said. “A guy comes through the middle, looking back over his shoulder for a suicide pass, you step up and try to hit him hard. It’s not a dirty hit, not a malicious hit, not necessarily what I would think to be reckless.It’s something where I was very aware of what I was doing. Was I trying to target his head? Not at all. I’ve made that read, and I’m sure I will continue to make that same read, throughout my career. ... Maybe I will try to get a little bit more in front of him and come back, try to hit him right in the chest. But it’s just unfortunate, a couple of inches, a split-second of missed timing. If I would have just caught his shoulder first instead of his head, it’s fine. (The suspension) stinks, but (Abdelkader) is fine, which is good. All I can do is work hard this week in practice, stay in shape and be ready when it’s done.”
“I have on purpose, and by design, not looked at the Shanahan video,” [Blues coach Ken] Hitchcock said. “I’m not watching any of it. For me, the call was made and that’s their call, and we’re moving on. But I’m not watching any more of those videos, that’s it, done. I’m tired of it. It is what it is and we have to deal with it.”
“I’m still confused,” he added. “There are hits to the head and then there are other hits to the head. Some get called and some don’t. At some period of time, I’ll pull up our videos, probably over the summer, and just for my own well-being, so I don’t get too revved up, get some explanation. But that’s not for right now.”
Here’s the hit the Blues are steamed about:
I didn’t think that Cole was going to get more than a game, but I also don’t think that Datsyuk’s hit was the kind of hard, blind-side steamroller that we’ve been talking about taking out of the game, either—though I’m biased here.
Abdelkader addressed the suspension very briefly while speaking with the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
“Those are the hits we are trying to take out of the league to protect our players, which is good,” Abdelkader said of Cole’s hit to his head last weekend.
Part IV: Red Wings notebooks and other items of Red Wings-related note: Darren Helm spoke to MLive’s Ansar Khan about his groin injury...
Forwards Darren Helm and Tomas Holmstrom, each out with a strained groin, did not practice today and won’t play Tuesday at Dallas (8 p.m., Fox Sports Detroit).
“It feels a lot better, hopefully get on the ice when we get back,’’ Helm said. “Stick around here, get some treatment, get a couple of workouts in, hopefully be ready for the weekend, for the fathers trip.’‘
And he spoke to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about his injury as well, noting that the Wings’ conservative medical staff chose to err on the side of caution:
“I was hoping to be back right away, but they want me to stay off a little longer,” Helm said. “This is new to me, so I’ll listen to them.”
• Regarding Chris Conner, per Kulfan, Wings coach Mike Babcock suggested that the team feels Conner’s better served by earning regular playing time for the present moment…
“We just want him to get rolling,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s there until we need him.”
Conner, a Livonia native, said he’ll use his time in Grand Rapids to get his timing back and hopefully return to Detroit as soon as possible.
“I’m excited to just get playing,” Conner said. “I haven’t played in a couple of weeks. I just want to play.”
Conner has played six games with the Red Wings, scoring three points (one goal). In 20 games with Grand Rapids, he has 23 points (seven goals). The timing of the injury couldn’t have been worse for Conner, who was becoming a key part of the penalty kill.
“When (the injury) happened, I felt things were going well,” Conner said. “You just want to keep going. I’m confident I can get back to playing like that and hopefully I’ll be back here soon.”
And I guess we could call this note from the Free Press’s Anthony Fenech a classic Babcockian exchange with the media:
After Monday’s practice, Red Wings forward Chris Conner was asked whether he would join the team on its trip to Dallas.
“I’m not sure what ...,” Conner began to answer.
“Nope, he’s not; he’s going to be assigned right now,” Wings coach Mike Babcock interjected, finishing the answer.
“Well, there it goes,” Conner said.
Babcock said Conner will be with the Griffins until the Wings next need him, and Conner said that while his hand is feeling better and he has a full range of motion with it, he’s still awaiting medical clearance to play.
• Even though NHL commissioner Gary Bettman made it very clear that the league has yet to decide upon a Winter Classic host for 2013, the media corps has rather heavy-handedly suggested that the Wings are in line to host said event next season, and Yahoo Sports’ Nicholas J. Cotsonika ran with that line of thinking in his wrap-up of the Philadelphia edition thereof:
The gamble paid off again for the NHL. You never know what you’re going to get when you build an ice rink in a baseball or football stadium. There could be a heat wave. There could be a downpour. The game could be a downer. The face of your league could be concussed (sigh).
But the league has gone 5-for-5 – or 4-for-5, at worst. The first Winter Classic was a snow-globe scene that ended with a Sidney Crosby shootout winner. The second saw 10 goals between the Detroit Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks at Wrigley Field. The third was an overtime game won by the Boston Bruins at Fenway Park. The fourth will be remembered for the hit to Crosby’s head and the light rain that fell, but no one knew that night what was to come for Crosby, and despite the weather, on went the show. The fifth was a competitive game in good conditions that ended with a dramatic penalty shot and even a scuffle between rivals at the final horn.
And that is why we look forward to the sixth – almost certainly in the Detroit area, either at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor or downtown at Comerica Park – not to mention the seventh and the eighth and so on. The Winter Classic is worth much more than two points.
I don’t even want to mention it, but let’s just say that the Winter Classic frenzy’s gotten to the point where people will reference any website that posts a list of potential sites or “interesting match-ups.”
• Speaking of arbitrary lists, two sets of power rankings hit the wires on Monday, starting with ESPN’s Pierre LeBrun’s very brief comment about the Wings…
5. Detroit [record] 24-13-1 Last Week: 7: Second in NHL in 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio. Key stat.
And concluding with those of Sportsnet’s Luke Fox:
4 Red Wings [last week] 5: The Wings face a tough start to the new year as their first four games take place on the road, where they’re 9-11-0. Detroit’s last two home games were victories over western foes the St. Louis Blues. Make that 12 in a row at the Joe. You think these guys wouldn’t kill for home-ice advantage through the playoffs?
• And finally, the Windsor Star’s Joel Boyce noted that Igor Larionov attended a few games at the World Under-17 Junior Challenge in Windsor for business reasons:
The former Detroit Red Wings represents more than a dozen professional hockey players, including ex-Spit Andrei Loktionov of the Los Angeles Kings.
“I came to watch a couple of young players,” Larionov said. “One of them is Sergei Tolchinskiy.”
Presently working from Bloomfield Hills, Mich., Windsor is a convenient drive for Larionov.
“So far it’s been good,” Larionov said. “It’s nice to see young talent from all across the world. It’s good for everybody to prepare themselves with what to expect and what’s the next step to get better.”
Though, not only is he an agent, Larionov is the co-owner of the Triple Overtime Wine Company, which exports Australian and Californian wines to Russia, Switzerland and small parts of Michigan. He was also the director of hockey operations for SKA St. Petersburg in 2008, but resigned a year later voicing his dissatisfaction with the KHL’s corporate structure.
Larionov left for Calgary Monday to support two other players he represents, [Nail] Yakupov and [Artem] Sergeev, who are playing for Team Russia in the World Junior Tournament.
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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.