The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/05/11 at 07:19 PM ET
The Red Wings didn’t receive good news on the injury front during today’s practice as both Niklas Kronwall (“upper body”) and Chris Osgood (sports hernia surgery) remain sidelined, but the Wings have received an in-house reinforcement thanks to the performance of Justin Abdelkader, whose two-goal game against the Nashville Predators punctuated his emergence as a player who can do more than just drive the opposition to distraction, as DetroitRedWings.com’s Dave Burke suggests:
The Muskegon, Mich., native is in his first full NHL regular-season, playing in 71 games, where he’s been a physical impact player, leading the team with 179 hits. He has seven goals with a 11 assists and has a plus-13 rating.
“I’ve just got more games under my belt, more experience, more comfortable, more confident,” Abdelkader said. “I just feel like I belong now, compared to previous years.”
Abdelkader’s battled inconsistent play at times, and has spent time in the press box as a healthy scratch as a result, but he suggests that his resurgent play and “can’t-sit-him” status in Mike Babcock’s eyes have something to do with listening to his elders:
“The veterans have been really good,” he said. “They have kind of showed us younger guys how it should be done, on and off the ice. How you need to work, train, how to prepare for games. I think that’s how it always has been here. This is a great organization for younger guys to come up through and learn from the guys who have been there and done that. That’s why they’ve been successful.”
The Wings’ vets aren’t surprised to see Abdelkader step up offensively after slowly but surely evolving into a more consistent player:
“When he’s using his size to his advantage, he’s tough to play against,” Lidstrom said. “He’s a strong skater and he gets in on the forecheck. I think that line with he, Mule (Johan Franzen) and Bert (Todd Bertuzzi) together are tough to defend. They’re big bodies who protect the puck and can score as well.”
And on Saturday?
“He did a great job, he did everything,” Cleary said. “Putting aside the two goals he scored, he played terrific, he was physical and played really hard and it really showed.”
Abdelkader says that he’s simply more comfortable in his own skin these days, regardless of where the Wings place him (he’s spent time as a third-line center, a fourth-line center, fourth-line winger and occasionally a top six winger alongside one of Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg) in the lineup:
“I’ve spent the majority of the season on the wing and been playing center now and can be versatile wherever they play me,” he said. “I just go out there work hard and keep it simple and hopefully keep growing my game and keep getting better.”
To some extent, Abdelkader’s ups and downs during his first full season with the Wings (Abdelkader played in 50 games for Detroit and 33 for Grand Rapids during the 2009-2010 season) mirror those of Darren Helm, who also made his playoff debut with the Red Wings in 2008 but is only a sophomore In terms of years of full-season NHL experience under his belt.
Helm told Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji that his teammate is simply starting to blossom because Abdelkader’s learned how to fulfill his coaches’ expectations on a nightly basis:
“He’s kind of figured out what he has to do out there on the ice to be successful, and he’s doing a great job at it,” Helm said. “He’s a big body, skates well and shoots the puck. He plays really well in all areas of the ice. He’s definitely a guy that can be counted on in any situation out on the ice. For him, confidence and getting a chance to go out there and doing it is a big thing, I think.”
“We need everybody to be stepping up, but he came in in ‘09 — he had those two big goals against Pittsburgh,” Helm said. “It’s tough to say that he’ll be doing that again, but he definitely has it in his repertoire to be a guy that can score big goals, and he’s scored a fair amount of big goals for us the last few years. He’s a guy that will step up his game in the situation that he’s in, so we’re looking forward to seeing Abby in playoff mode.”
For the moment, anyway, Abdelkader’s playing between Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen, usurping Valtteri Filppula’s job, and that’s just fine by both the Wings’ captain and head coach:
“They’re big bodies, they’re tough to move around and they’re good at hanging onto the puck and making plays with it,” Nick Lidstrom said. “They’re strong skaters, too, so they can get in on the forecheck and bang around a bit, use their bodies to their advantage. They can score for us, as well, so that’s a tough line to play against.”
“Abby’s played real hard, so that helps,” [Wings coach Mike] Babcock said. “Val Filppula is a skilled guy for us that we think should probably be in that hole. To me, to be as good as we can be, we need to be slotted right. Yet Abby’s played real well and has been effective for us for a couple games. Good for us.”
Also of note from Wakiji: Babcock refused to play “pick ‘em” regarding the Red Wings’ possible playoff opponents:
Although the Wings have clinched the Central Division, the Western Conference is so tight that they could play Anaheim, Calgary, Chicago, Dallas, Los Angeles, Nashville or Phoenix in the first round of the playoffs, depending what happens in the final few games.
“I think it’s real good because it’s so wide open, you can’t even predict,” Babcock said. “Be careful what you wish for is all I would tell you. So we’re not wishing for anything except being healthy and getting in and getting started. We’re fortunate we’re going to get started at home and go from there.”
• The Carolina Hurricanes essentially have to run the table to make the playoffs, and going into tomorrow night’s game against Detroit (7:30 PM, FSD/FS Carolinas/WXYT), Canes forward Jussi Jokinen and coach Paul Maurice spoke to both the Raleigh News & Observer’s Chip Alexander and CarolinaHurricanes.com’s Paul Branecky about the importance of defeating the Wings:
While the Canes will still need assistance in the regular season’s final week, not much will have changed in regards to the task at hand. Mathematically, they could drop a game and still sneak in to the postseason depending on what happens to the teams above them. Practically, they’ll need a perfect finish to give themselves a real chance.
“We still have to concentrate on our game,” said Jokinen. “You can’t think too far ahead or on things you can’t control, because we still have to win all three.”
Their first test will be against a Detroit Red Wings team that has clinched home-ice advantage in the Western Conference but could still pass the San Jose Sharks to move as high as the No. 2 seed. The Wings, 46-23-10 on the season, have just three wins in their last eight contests, although two of those have come in their last two games on the heels of a 10-3 loss to St. Louis.
“They’re not invincible. We’ve seen that,” said Maurice. “They’re a very, very good hockey team, but we have more on the line and that has to be our advantage. It’s just a matter of inches in this game, and if you’re not right on and the other team is, you’re going to have a hard time beating them regardless of where you sit in the standings.”
As has been the case for many of the Hurricanes’ recent efforts, win or loss, they remain reasonably pleased with their overall game.
“We had five really good chances to score in that third period (against Buffalo), and I’m glad we weren’t playing sitting back,” said Maurice. “That’s the attitude that will make us successful and give us the best chance to be successful. We’ve got to go and be aggressive and play with no fear and all excitement.”
• And in the FYI department: The Southgate News-Herald reports that Ted Lindsay will attend a charity event which will benefit the Ted Lindsay Foundation for Autism this Saturday…
Kroger, 13333 Eureka Road, will hold a “hockey fest” to benefit the Ted Lindsay Foundation and families affected by autism from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday.
Lindsay is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is among former Detroit Red Wings scheduled to appear. He’ll be there from noon to 2 p.m.
Skills tests include face-offs, being a goalie trying to stop a foam puck and taking the fastest shot as measured by radar. There also will be games in minirinks and a “legends of hockey” exhibit.
The event is sponsored by Kroger, the Red Wings and WMGC-FM (105.1).
• For no particular reason, Fox Sports’ Robert Picarello dropped the Wings from 2nd to 5th place in his list of power rankings, but the Sporting News’s Craig Custance kept the Wings in their 4th-place spot in his rankings;
• And the Red Wings’ website reports that the Wings’ deejay tried to play songs with either direct or indirect ties to Michigan on Sunday.
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