The Malik Report
by George Malik on 02/20/11 at 08:04 AM ET
As the Detroit Red Wings and Minnesota Wild prepare to face off in a “brunch game” to accommodate NBC’s Hockey Day in America activities (11:30 AM local time, 12:30 PM EST, NBC/WXYT/streamed on NBCSports.com for those of you out of regional coverage), the Wild find themselves in a much more precarious position than the Wings, currently sitting in tenth place in the Western Conference, amidst a playoff pack where the Wild’s 67 points are three ahead of 12th place and only 5 behind the 3rd-place Coyotes.
In a mad scramble amidst a crowded playoff-eligible pack, the Wild are coming off a 5-1 win over Anaheim which broke a 2-game losing streak, but they’ve also won seven of their past ten games. As such, while the Wings head into Minnesota hoping to earn their fifth straight win, while celebrating Todd Bertuzzi’s 1,000th NHL game with his family in attendance, the Wild come into the game with much more desperation, especially as they lost their captain and first-line center, Mikko Koivu, to a mysterious hand injury.
While spending Saturday afternoon practicing outside as part of “Hockey Weekend Across America,” the Wild repeatedly stated that they’d scratch and claw to win today’s game for their captain, as they told the Minneapolis Star-Tribune’s Kent Youngblood:
“He’s a leader, he plays on the power play, the penalty kill,” center Matt Cullen said. “There is no way to replace a Mikko Koivu.”
Koivu injured his left hand in the first period of Friday’s 5-1 victory over Anaheim at Xcel Energy Center. It happened moments after Koivu’s momentum-changing goal had tied the score 1-1. Koivu blocked a Todd Marchant shot with his left hand. He looked at the hand, left the ice, walked down the tunnel and disappeared into what may well be a weekend-long black hole of information.
“First of all, our thoughts are with Mikko, and we hope he’ll be back soon,” said Cullen, whose shorthanded goal Friday gave the Wild the lead for good. “But, as a team, we’re at such a critical spot right now, and all these games are so big, we just have to find a way.”
It will take contributions from everywhere on the roster, much like what was displayed Friday, when five players scored for Minnesota. The Wild recalled center Cory Almond from Houston of the AHL and he was at practice Saturday. Richards said he would likely use Almond as the fourth center, at least initially, rather than move either Pierre-Marc Bouchard or Eric Nystrom to center. Richards also said he would likely dress seven defensemen Sunday against Detroit, which was a successful strategy against Anaheim. He said the way the team was able to play after losing Koivu early in the Anaheim game should give the team confidence going forward.
“I’m a big believer in, no matter what happens, in any given situation, there is a way,” [Wild coach Todd] Richards said. “There is a way to win the game [Sunday]. There is a way for us to win our next five games in a row. ... It’s easy for me to sit here and say that, but I’m a big believer in that.”
Also from Youngblood:
Like he did against Anaheim Friday, Richards said he’d likely suit seven defensemen for tomorrow’s matinee against Detroit. You will continue to see players expanding their roles like they did Friday, when Martin Havlat killed penalties and Nystrom got in on the power play.
Richards said he hoped the team would take the loss of Koivu and make it a rallying point. Getting the kind of effort the Wild got out of centers Matt Cullen, John Madden and Kyle Brodziak Friday wouldn’t hurt either. Indeed, Richards said he thought the line of Madden-Nystrom-Clutterbuck, which was matched up with Anaheim’s Getzlaf line, was perhaps the team’s best Friday.
Richards said Backstrom would be in nets vs. the Red Wings.
Read: the Wild will probably dress the John Madden-Eric Nystrom-Cyle Clusterf…I mean Clutterbuck line against Datsyuk’s line.
The Wild reiterated their team line to the Pioneer Press’s Bruce Brothers, too:
“He’s so crucial in every aspect of the game,” Cullen added. “There’s no way to replace a Mikko Koivu. But we have to find a way to come together and try to fill the hole as best we can and get wins. Hopefully, it won’t be long; he’s such a huge part of our team.”
[Brent] Burns acknowledged it’ll be a challenge for the Wild to play without Koivu, who is tied with Martin Havlat for the team lead in points with 49 in 58 games and scored the tying goal against the Ducks on Friday night before he was hurt. However, he added, “you’ve got to do it. It’s a fact of life; everybody’s got to step up. It’s a part of the game.”
Koivu’s injury coincided with the return of defenseman Marek Zidlicky to the lineup after he missed 21 games because of a shoulder injury, and injured forward Guillaume Latendresse is scheduled to visit a doctor Monday for permission to possibly rejoin practice. Latendresse, who underwent abdominal surgery for two sports hernias, two groin injuries and to repair an injured hip flexor, is not expected back in the lineup quickly, however. The team has no choice, Cullen said Saturday, but to roll with things.
“That’s part of the deal,” he said. “It was good to get Zid back last night; he was good. Hopefully we’ll get some more guys back soon. But at the same time that’s one thing where we’re fortunate, we have a little depth in the middle and some overall depth up front, so hopefully that can help carry us through this time.”
Havlat, who scored his 17th goal on a power play against the Ducks, said Koivu’s injury represents an opportunity “for the other guys to show what they can do. It’s a big loss for us, and hopefully it’s not going to be too long.”
The Star-Tribune’s Youngblood posted the following brunch game preview...
Preview: The Wild, playing without Mikko Koivu and still on the cusp of a playoff spot, looks for its second consecutive victory. Detroit, currently second in the West, comes to Xcel Energy Center for this matinee having won four games in a row.
Players to watch: Wild W Martin Havlat is one point away from 500 for his career. He has three assists in two games vs. Detroit this season. C Kyle Brodziak (3-11-14) has 14 points in the past 14 games, during which the Wild has gone 10-4. G Niklas Backstrom, who will be in the nets, is 1-4-2 with a 3.57 goals-against average and a .903 save percentage all-time vs. Detroit. Detroit RW Todd Bertuzzi, who will play in his 1,000th career game Sunday, has scored two goals in three of the Wings’ past four games. He has 31 points in 43 games vs. the Wild.
Numbers: The Wild penalty kill is going at an 88.4 percent clip since Dec. 31, second-best in the NHL in that time. Detroit and Minnesota are ranked 5-6 in the NHL on the power play.
The Wings will start Jimmy Howard opposite Backstrom, and it’s highly likely that they’ll ice their usual lineup, so, per Hockey Wilderness’s BReynolds, the Wild will ice a lineup that looks something like this…
Andrew Brunette - ? - Antti Miettinen
[Chuck Kobasew] - Kyle Brodziak - Martin Havlat
? - Matt Cullen - Pierre-Marc Bouchard
[John Madden] - [Eric Nystrom] - [Cal Clutterbuck]
Clayton Stoner - Greg Zanon
Nick Schultz -Brent Burns
Jared Spurgeon - Cam Barker
While the Wings will go with the usual:
Danny Cleary-Pavel Datsyuk-Jiri Hudler
Johan Franzen-Henrik Zetterberg-Todd Bertuzzi
Kris Draper-Justin Abdelkader-Patrick Eaves
Drew Miller-Justin Abdelkader-Tomas Holmstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom-Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson-Brian Rafalski
Niklas Kronwall-Ruslan Salei
There’s just not much to report because the Wings got Saturday off to say goodbye to their fathers/mentors/friends after the Fathers’ Trip ended with a successful sweep of Florida via a 4-3 win over the Florida Panthers, leaving for Minnesota at 5 PM EST before going to sleep a little earlier than usual so that the gents can get up and get to the rink by 10 AM CST.
NHL.com’s Deborah Francisco shifts focus to the Wings, who very obviously can’t manufacture the kind of desperation the Wild have going into today’s game, but do have some serious business to take care of: remember that “playoff pack” I talked about? The Wings are five points ahead of said pack with 78 points, and the Wings have some big home games against their pursuers in Dallas (Tuesday) and San Jose (Thursday) at home before heading first East (to Buffalo) and then out West (to Anaheim, San Jose and Phoenix)...
And the power play is still sputtering, Johan Franzen’s putting up points but hasn’t scored in the seven games following his 5-goal outburst against Ottawa, and while the Wings’ team goals-against average has gone down significantly over the course of their past four games, they’re still giving up 30+ shots with alarming regularity. The Wings want to get on an honest-to-goodness seven-to-ten-game unbeaten streak, and to do so and stave off about 8 teams that a dozen or fewer points behind them, they’ve got to keep showing signs of defensive progress and offensive prowess as they hopefully kick the Wild while they’re down.
NHL.com’s Deborah Francisco provides a solidly balanced game preview:
Last 10: Detroit 7-3-0; Minnesota 7-3-0.
Season Series – Detroit and Minnesota have split the season series so far with the Wild winning a 4-3 contest in overtime on Nov. 19 and the Red Wings winning the next meeting 4-1 on Dec. 26. Sunday’s contest will be the third of four meeting between the Western Conference clubs.
Big Story – Minnesota has won three of its last five contests and is slowly but surely paving a path into postseason contention while Detroit has a chance to extend its recent win streak to five games, which would be its longest of the 2010-2011 season.
Who’s hot – Henrik Zetterberg has eight assists in his last five games, including two on Friday.
Injury Report – Detroit is still without forwards Valtteri Filppula (knee) and Mike Modano (wrist) and goalie Chris Osgood (sports hernia surgery). … In Minnesota, defenseman Marek Zidlicky returned to the lineup after missing 21 games with a separated shoulder but Marco Scandella is still out indefinitely with a concussion while James Sheppard (knee), Josh Harding (ACL/MCL) and Guillaume Latendresse (hernia/hip) are all on IR.
Stat Pack – Historically, Detroit has dominated play between these two teams since Minnesota joined the league in 2000, boasting a record of 25-6-3 in that span.
As NBC Sports and Versus are airing oodles of hockey today, Pro Hockey Talk’s James O’Brien weighed in on today’s game suggesting that the Wild face more pressure to perform than the Wings do…
Detroit Red Wings (road): Much like the Flyers, the Red Wings aren’t that worried about their division mates right now, but instead how they compare to the Canucks. Detroit has a legitimate shot to take the top spot in the West if Vancouver’s injury woes start to push them down the standings.
Minnesota Wild (home): How much longer will an ultra-loyal fan base show up in droves to support a middling franchise? The Wild continue to test the limits of hockey-mad Minnesota, although they’re at least (foolishly?) spending a lot more money on their roster lately. Mikko Koivu‘s team is stuck in the West muck, so this should be an absolutely crucial contest against a very tough team.
Who’s under the most pressure?: Minnesota.
Two Wings earned praise as two of the better Americans playing on Sunday…
3. Brian Rafalski (Detroit Red Wings defenseman)
If you wanted to find the Scottie Pippen of NHL defensemen, it might just be Rafalski. Despite producing great hockey as a key member of championship teams in New Jersey and Detroit, the offensive defenseman has been overshadowed by Hall of Famers (or soon to be HoFers) such as Nicklas Lidstrom, Scott Stevens and Scott Niedermayer.
It wasn’t until the Vancouver Olympics that Rafalski received the opportunity to prove that he could be the go-to guy at the highest level of competition. He might be 37 years old, but Rafalski remains an outstanding blueliner for the Red Wings. He produced 36 points and a +15 rating in 45 games this season.
5. Jimmy Howard (Detroit Red Wings goalie)
Things have been a little rocky for the Syracuse, New York native this season, but in many ways Howard saved Detroit’s season in 09-10. It also must be said that the Red Wings’ defense has been a bit lacking lately, so it’s far too early to write-off Howard.
Howard has 28 wins so far this season. If he regains the confidence that helped him go 37-15-10 with a 92.4 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average last season, he might be the Red Wings’ goalie of the present and future.
And a certain Todd Bertuzzi earned status from O’Brien as an “underrated player”:
It might be weird to see a player with such an infamous past on this list, but somewhere between the Steve Moore incident and Hockeytown, fans may have forgotten that he’s a good hockey player. Since the ugly incident that clearly taints his name every time it’s mentioned, he’s reengineered his game to be a completely different player. Gone are the days when he was flying high with Brendan Morrison andMarkus Naslund as an elite power forward. Instead, he’s become a valuable piece to the Detroit Red Wings machine. He doesn’t score a point-per-game anymore (it’s about half of that), but he still brings much needed grit and hands to an immensely talented team. If the Red Wings want to compete for a Stanley Cup, odds are Todd Bertuzzi will have to be a productive player in his new role.
The Wings suggested to the team’s beat writers that they’re very well aware of Bertuzzi’s ability to contribute at both ends of the ice, as a leader and a positive force in the locker room, but given that he’s essentially a nuclear deterrent (I use this term and nobody under 30 seems to get it, so for those of you who don’t remember being told that, in the event of nuclear war, you didn’t have to worry because the Russians had missiles aimed at the auto plants: a nuclear deterrent is, in theory, something so powerful that you don’t ever have to use it, just as the Wings have Bertuzzi in their lineup as a sort of enforcer repellent despite the fact that he never fights), Kris Draper’s quip to the Free Press’s Helene St. James seems most appropriate:
Though Bertuzzi isn’t as naturally gregarious as [Kris] Draper or as affable as [Chris] Osgood, he has endeared himself to his teammates. Asked about Bertuzzi’s personality, Draper broke into a grin and interjected. “Sunshine? He is a quiet guy, but when he’s in the locker room he jokes around with the guys. Between periods, he talks to the guys—way to go, way to skate, way to do this—he tries to build. That’s just kind of what goes on in this dressing room. It doesn’t matter where guys have been or what they’ve been like. It always seems when they come in here, we always have a good group of guys, and Bert is certainly one of those guys.”
Hopefully, the Wings will give Sunshine a win for his 1,000th game present.
Per the NHL’s media website, Frederick L’Ecuyer and Kevin Pollock will referee today’s game, and Ryan Galloway and Mark Shewchyk will work the lines.
Also of Red Wings-related note this morning:
• St. James also spoke to Red Wings GM Ken Holland about the fact that any delays in Chris Osgood’s return from hernia surgery could prompt Holland to make a move at the trade deadline:
Osgood underwent surgery for a sports hernia Jan. 11. He started doing light drills a week ago and Friday faced shots for the first time. He plans to try practicing either Tuesday or Wednesday. The Wings need to know by the end of this week whether Osgood thinks he can return, because if that’s in doubt, they’ll need to see if they can find a replacement before the Feb. 28 deadline.
“Priority 1 is to find out the status of Chris a week from now,” Holland said. “Hopefully, he’s ready to start stepping it up.”
Holland doesn’t expect the Wings to be big players on the market for a number of reasons. They have only $570,000 in salary space. They’re well stacked up front, and though a cheap and savvy defenseman is always welcome, nearly every team wants one.
“At this time of year, everyone is looking for veteran defensemen,” Holland said. “I’m still going to explore. I’ve talked to a few managers in the last couple of days. But we’re dollar in, dollar out. I don’t see us getting a rental, because we can’t add. The only thing we’re going to do is if there’s a hockey deal out there. But we got Brad Stuart back. We’re getting Mike Modano back in a week. We’re getting Valtteri Filppula back in the next week.”
Holland will kick every tire and inquire as to the price of every player, but he’s probably not going to do a thing at the NHL level. I would not, however, be surprised if Holland makes a move or two to bolster the Griffins’ ranks as they’re in a dogfight to make a playoff spot right now.
As Danny Cleary also told St. James, the Wings very simply hope that their play of late has stayed Holland’s hand. When the Wings dropped three straight games and had their butts kicked by Nashville, Holland suggested that he might make a move to steady the ship if he had to, but the players believe that they’ve patched the hull of the S.S. Red Wings on their own:
“The Boston game in Boston, we talked a lot amongst each other, and we finally had to man up and start to play well, and I think that was a good test for us,” Cleary said. “Boston’s a good team, and it was on the road, in Boston. We played a good game, and we’ve been able to continue.”
• Looking forward, the Wings will undergo renovations up front this summer, regardless of whether Kris Draper chooses to retire, as Jan Mursak and Cory Emmerton have to clear waivers to be sent to the AHL next fall. The Wings signed Mursak to a two-year contract extension after Mike Babcock declared that he’d won a spot on the 2011-2012 roster, and Mursak talked to the Grand Rapids Press’s Michael Zuidema about what his new contract means (according to Capgeek.com, Mursak will earn $540,000 and then $560,000 over the next two years, averaging out to a $550K cap hit):
“I was really happy I signed already for the next two years, so I don’t have to worry in the summer and wait until the last second. But I’m not too happy today with my game,” the 23-year-old right wing said. “I know I can play way better and help the team win more. I don’t know what was wrong with me today.”
Mursak may have been disappointed with how he played, but the Red Wings must not be worried. Mursak drew praise for his speed and tough play during a recent 17-game stint with Detroit, where he had one goal and a minus-3 rating. He missed the past three Griffins games with a sore left big toe, but he has 11 goals, 14 assists and a plus-10 rating in 37 games this season.
“I don’t want to think about it too much,” he said. “I just want to concentrate on finishing the season here in Grand Rapids and play the best that I can.”
• Mursak registered an assist and Emmerton registered 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist) as the Grand Rapids Griffins dropped a 4-3 shootout decision to the Toronto Marlies on Saturday. Griffins coach Curt Fraser continues to ride Jordan Pearce in the nets, and he stopped 26 of 29 shots in regulation but gave up 3 shootout goals to 5 Marlies shooters.
The Griffins’ website provides a solid recap, as does the Grand Rapids Press, which notes that the Griffins lost consecutive shootouts on Friday and Saturday because they squandered identical 2-0 leads, and the Griffins will get the chance to earn two points as they host the Peoria Rivermen today at 4 PM.
The Canadian Press, Toronto Star and Marlies’ website provide recaps which focus on the fact that Joe Colborne, the main compensation the Maple Leafs received from Boston for Tomas Kaberle, scored a goal and shootout goal on Saturday;
• In the ECHL, neither Willie Coetzee nor Sebastien Piche registered a point as the Toledo Walleye defeated the Kalamazoo K-Wings2-1 in a shootout, but Coetzee registered the shootout-winning goal, and he said this to the Toledo Blade’s Mark Monroe:
“I like being the go-to guy in pressure situations,” Coetzee said. “It’s fun. It’s a situation where you can help the boys out. The crowd was roaring. It’s a good feeling to win in this barn in that atmosphere. I just happened to be that guy tonight. But everyone deserved that win.”
• In the OHL, the Saginaw News’s Kyle Austin reports that Chris Chelios made an appearance at Saturday’s Saginaw Spirit game (the Spirit defeated Sarnia 6-2);
• The Free Press offered a few Wings-related tidbits in stats, a picture from a Westland restaurant that Mike Modano happens to frequent and a “Stevie Award” for Steve Yzerman from the Free Press’s Steve Schrader:
The “He’s Seen Both Sides Now” award
To Steve Yzerman, who got his first taste of why other teams just don’t care for the Red Wings the other night, when they soundly beat his improving Lightning in Tampa. On the other hand, it looked like he still knows how to put a lot of Wings fans in the seats, eh?
The postseason awards races are starting to get interesting, perhaps none more so than the one for the Norris Trophy. Dustin Byfuglien was the rabbit out of the gate, but with the way the Thrashers are nosediving it doesn’t seem likely that he’ll get the award for the league’s top defenseman. The ageless Nick Lidstrom is always in the running, but until the Red Wings had their great weekend against the B’s, he was a minus player.
Pittsburgh’s Kris Letang is making a strong case for himself as, heading into the weekend, he was third in scoring among defensemen, was a plus-16 and has been vital to the Penguins as they try to manage along without the help of their superstars, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Milton’s own Keith Yandle, the leading scorer among defenseman going into the weekend, should get strong consideration out in Phoenix.
But do not discount Zdeno Chara as a factor in the race.
Going into the weekend, he had the highest plus-minus of any player logging 25 minutes or more a game. But while his stats are decent, the things that set him apart aren’t ones that show up on the scoresheet. The amount of ice he covers with his 6-foot-9 frame is easy to take for granted. And the fact that he was voted as the toughest defenseman against whom to play in the recent Players Association poll is telling. He’s hit a bit of the February wall recently, going minus-6 in his last six games going into Friday, but he’s still one of the best in the business.
• The Montreal Gazette’s Pat Hickey posted an interesting factoid in honor of Sunday’s Heritage Classic between the Canadiens and Flames: the Wings once played an outdoor exhibition game against inmates at Marquette Prison way back in 1954;
• Even in defending the Red Wings’ goaltending, independent journalist Greg Eno, who writes solid stuff most of the time, posted his article on Bleacher Report and essentially goes for the low-hanging fruit on the tree by bringing up the classic late winter/early spring worry, the, “Do the Wings have the goaltending to win in the playoffs?” line;
• Good news in the prospect department, part 1: Per the Bangor Daily News’s Larry Mahoney, streaking University of Maine Black Bears forward and Wings prospect Gustav Nyquist scored two goals as Maine defeated UMass Lowell 3-0 on Saturday;
• Better news in the prospect department: Per the Kelowna Capital News’s Kevin Parnell, Mitchell Callahan returned from a concussion and scored a goal in the Kelowna Rockets’ 6-3 win over Vancouver;
• Odd news in the alumni department: the Owen Sound Attack postponed their game against the Oshawa Generals in which Kirk Maltby will be honored for his contributions to the franchise while in the OHL, with the game taking place tonight at 6 PM;
• And finally, per the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson, two Red Wings alums and the current GM believe that Peter Forsberg should be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame three years after he finally decides to retire for good (I’m guessing that’ll happen in 2015):
“It’s too bad he had the injuries, but he’s a can’t miss guy for me,” said Scotty Bowman, the game’s greatest coach. “He was a dominant player for half-a-dozen years, a two-way player who could also take the puck off a guy. A hell of a plus/minus, too. I think he was about plus-250 for his career.”
“Pretty great numbers for Peter,” said Hall of Fame defenceman Paul Coffey. “Absolutely a Hall of Famer. On the first ballot for me.”
“Some guys don’t have to play a long time,” said Detroit Red Wings general manager Ken Holland. “With their sheer skill, they’re Hall of Famers, no matter how many games they play. Like Bobby Orr. Like Mario (Lemieux, with his cancer scares and bad back).”
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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.