The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/06/12 at 11:32 AM ET
Updated with a Babcock interview at 9:50 AMThe Red Wings face something of a running of a gauntlet of difficult opponents and media maelstroms in their back-to-back games against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks this weekend, but Wings coach Mike Babcock chose this weekend as the team’s annual Fathers’ Trip to both shake off mid-season doldrums and ensure competitive performances against the Leafs, Hawks, and, on Tuesday, the New York Islanders. The Red Wings received a private guided tour of the Hockey Hall of Fame on Thursday evening, and the players all but gushed about the opportunity to impress their fathers, mentors and friends this weekend, as the Free Press’s George Sipple noted:
“[My dad]‘s excited, for sure,” Abdelkader said. “It’s awesome. They’ve been there for our whole career, pretty much, have done so much and been such an influence, so it’s great to bring them on a trip and see how the daily routine works.”
How about his mom? “My mom, she is lobbying for a mother’s trip, for sure,” he said.
Some of the European fathers really get a kick out of the trip, as they don’t get a chance to see their sons often during the season. Henrik Zetterberg said his father is retired, so that helps him make time for the trip: “He’s probably had his bag packed for two weeks.”
“It’s a great experience for them, to see behind the scenes,” Mike Commodore said. “They don’t fly charter or private jets very often. For my dad, he was amazed by the plane, he was amazed by how easy it was to get on the plane, that we don’t have to go through a terminal, and the food on the plane. It’s a lot of fun for them.”
Coach Mike Babcock said it’s great for the players, too.
“This year we’re doing Toronto and Chicago, two Original Six teams,” Babcock said. “We’re doing a Hall of Fame thing the first night. I think it’ll be great for our guys. We’re excited about that. To me, it just brings energy. I think it’s real important you do as many things during the year as you can to have energy.”
Babcock continued while speaking to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan:
“It’s fun to have them around (on the annual trip), and it’s an opportunity to say thanks to the dads for everything they’ve done,” Babcock said.
Babcock, whose father has been on the trip several times, is bringing his friend, Reggie Slobogean of Saskatchewan, who hosted Babcock’s Stanley Cup party several years ago. Most of the players said their fathers ask about this trip during the summer, wondering where it will go.
“As soon as they hear about it they’ll mark it on the schedule and pencil themselves in, even if you’re thinking about bringing someone else,” said Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard, whose father, James, is on the trip. “They call dibs.”
Talking it over with general manager Ken Holland, captain Nicklas Lidstrom felt this weekend’s trip to two Original Six cities seemed ideal.
“It’s something different,” Lidstrom said. “For the dads, it’s a chance to watch a game in Canada and see what that’s like.”
As noted on Thursday, the Wings may or may not employ the services of Tomas Holmstrom and Darren Helm (who are both nursing groin injuries) this weekend, and Babcock sounded somewhat iffy about using either player until Sunday’s game against Chicago at the earliest:
“I don’t think so, but there’s another practice (today), so we’ll see what happens,” Babcock said. “When they’re available, we’ll use them.”
And while the Wings didn’t speak at length about the whole All-Star “snubbing” of Jimmy Howard, Howard and Babcock talked to MLive’s Ansar Khan about Howard’s evolution—after Howard made sure to point out that he’s well aware of the importanceo f winning Saturday’s game, against what was once the Wings’ most bitter rival, on an international stage;
“It’s Hockey Night in Canada; it’s Monday Night Football for Canada,” Howard, who has a career mark of 99-46-16, said. “Everyone is tuned into it. If the crowd is anything like it is (at Joe Louis Arena) when we meet, it should be fun.”
As for his probable All-Star Game appearance…
“Most definitely, I’d love to go represent the organization,” Howard said. “Growing up watching the game, if you get a chance to go, it’s cool. The fact that it’s in Ottawa, growing up playing (near) there my whole childhood, pretty much until I was 16 years old, it would be a lot of fun,” Howard said. “Hopefully, I’ll have a lot of family and friends there if I get to go.”
And Babcock made some very, very revealing comments about Howard’s evolution into a workhorse starter given his hiccups during his rookie season:
“We went to Sweden for back-to-back games (at the start of 2009-10), we lost both,” Babcock said. “Ozzie was just average and Howie was awful. We came back and didn’t even know if he was an NHL goalie.”
Babcock said they had second doubts about letting Ty Conklin leave as a free agent (he signed with St. Louis) after his strong season in 2008-09 (25-11-2).
“That’s why we gave ourselves no option, so you couldn’t get mad or disappointed,” Babcock said. “(Howard) was your guy, you’re going to play him and he was going to come along. He’s gradually gotten better and better. He’s an upper echelon goaltender in this league. Now, he has to do it year after year after year for about 15 (seasons) and then you can say he’s good.”
Now we all know that the Wings have nothing to worry about in terms of receiving elite goaltending on a nightly basis, and Howard suggested to Khan that Babcock’s choice to start him so very regularly yields no adverse effects in terms of mental or physical fatigue:
“It’s good because you just go game to game and you’re not really thinking, just going out there playing,” Howard said. “I love competing, love being out there, battling for the guys, making saves.”
Part II: You may have missed it in the updates (hopefully you didn’t miss the whole University of Michigan being approached to host an outdoor game by the NHL thing), but Teemu Pulkkinen and Finland had a disappointing finish (no pun intended) at the World Junior Championships, losing the Bronze medal game to Canada. Quoting myself:
Finland was shut out 4-0 in the Bronze medal game. Pulkkinen finishes the tournament with 6 goals and 4 assists for 10 points over the course of 6 games played, but he finished Thursday’s game at -2 and failed to score on a penalty shot, as noted by IIHF.com’s Andrew Podnieks...
Late in the period, [Canadian goalie Mark] Visentin was called for throwing his goalie stick and the Finns were awarded a penalty shot. Teemu Pulkkinen bore down on Visentin but tried to go through the goalie’s legs only to see the puck kicked back out to keep the score 2-0.
“I didn’t do anything special,” Pulkkinen explained. “I tried to shoot five-hole, but it didn’t work.”
And Pulkkinen told NHL.com’s Erin Nicks that the Finns were both physically and mentally drained after missing out on an opportunity to face the Russians tonight:
The Finns admitted that after a 3-2 overtime loss to Sweden in the semifinal Tuesday, they were drained—both physically and emotionally.
“We got tired,” forward Teemu Pulkkinen said. “We played a long game against Sweden with the overtime. We were so close, after that when we lost the game we were so disappointed. I was so tired.”
The game started as one would expect between two teams that suffered heartbreaking losses with a gold medal berth on the line. But after getting over their passive pace, Canada broke through Finnish starter Sami Aittokallio on the power play near the midway mark of the first period. With Ville Pokka off for tripping, Pearson redirected a perfect pass from Barrie Colts teammate Mark Scheifele behind Aittokallio at 9:08 to give Canada a 1-0 lead. It was his first goal of the tournament.
On the power play again with just over four minutes remaining in the period, Canada almost gave up a shorthanded goal. Mikael Granlund sprung brother Markus in alone on Visentin. Markus deked, but Visentin got a pad on his shot to keep Finland off the board in the opening 20 minutes.
Pearson returned the favor to Scheifele in the second. Just 25 seconds following Visentin’s stop on Pulkkinen, Pearson found Scheifele in the slot with a pass from below the goal line. Scheifele pumped the puck over the blocker of Aittokallio at 5:35 to extend Canada’s lead to 2-0.
Pulkkinen had a prime opportunity with 2:32 remaining in the period to cut the lead to one. After Visentin was penalized for throwing his stick during a crease scramble that saw the Finns nearly get on the board, Pulkkinen was awarded a penalty shot. He broke in, cocked his stick and then fired a shot that Visentin was able to close his pads on.”
In the multimedia department, TSN posted a 4:22 highlight clip, [NHL.com posted a highlight clip, the Calgary Herald posted a 21-image gallery the Calgary Sun posted a 33-image gallery from the game and Hockeysfuture posted a clip of Pulkkinen’s post-game media availability]
Later on Thursday evening, Sweden defeated Russia 1-0 in overtime to capture their first World Junior Championship since 1981! Here’s what I posted last night…
Backman finished the tournament with 3 assists and a +5 over the course of six games played.
After the game ended, Petr Mrazek was named the tournament’s best goaltender.
In the multimedia department, NHL.com posted a lengthy highlight clip, TSN embedded a boatload of highlight and post-game clips in its recap, the Calgary Sun posted a 29-image gallery, the Globe and Mail posted a 17-image gallery and the Calgary Herald posted a 27-image gallery.
And I hate to keep mentioning it, but Paul might end up posting any big Wings news as I’m about to head out the door to attend an appointment which might take up the bulk of my day. I’ll be back in the afternoon or evening to pen an off-day post, but this is pretty much it for me in terms of coverage today. I’m sorry for the interruption in service.
Update: The Fan 590’s Jim Lang and Mike Farwell spoke to Wings coach Mike Babcock about the state of the Wings, Jiri Hudler, facing the Leafs and Burke’s blather about enforcers this morning:
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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.