The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/03/11 at 09:42 PM ET
Well, I’m a little late to the party as the Chief and I are playing dueling banjos, but we all knew that the Red Wings facing a congested December schedule (see: fifteen games over the course of 30 days, with 14 to go over the next 28), Ty Conklin would receive a start sooner or later, and MLive’s Ansar Khan reports that Sunday’s game against Colorado will be “that day” for Conklin:
Conklin is 1-2-0, with a 3.33 goals-against average and .880 save percentage. He made 29 saves in a 3-0 victory over the Avalanche at the Pepsi Center on Oct. 8. Coach Mike Babcock said that factored into his decision.
“He got a shutout last time we were here. It was important to get him in,’’ Babcock said after practice today at the Pepsi Center. “Howie’s played great, we can always do that (play him), but I think Conks is going to play great tomorrow. He played great the last time in here.’‘
Said Conklin: “I’m very excited. It’ll be nice to get in there and get some action.’‘
Otherwise, Khan reports that Babcock’s going to do the “sticking with a winning lineup” (i.e. no changes) spiel, and the Free Press’s Helene St. James confirms Conklin’s start as well:
Conklin hasn’t started a game since giving up three goals on 31 shots in a 4-1 loss Oct. 25 at Columbus. He came in to relieve Jimmy Howard in the third period of the Nov. 17 loss at San Jose, which dropped his numbers this season to 1-2 with a .88 save percentage and 3.33 goals-against average.
“It’s important to get him in,” Babcock said of Conklin. “Howie’s played great, but I think Conks is going to play great tomorrow. He played great last time in here.”
The Wings are riding a seven-game winning streak built in no small part on the back of Howard, and Conklin recognizes the pressure he’s under.
“You definitely want to take advantage of the opportunity you get,” he said. “It’s been a while since the last one, so yeah, I’d be lying if I said that you don’t put a little pressure on yourself.It’ll be nice to get some action, for sure. It’s been a little while.”
Conklin spoke to DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose about any potential nerves he might be feeling after over a month spent riding the pine…
“I’m very excited, I mean, it will be nice to be in there and get some action,” said Conklin, who has a 1-2-0 record with a 3.33 goals-against average in three starts.
The biggest thing for him, Conklin said, is to maintain a focus level that can’t be emulated in practice.
“You always do extra in practice and try to treat practice like games,” he said. “I mean, that’s as much as you can do, really. It’s the mental stuff and getting prepared and staying focused for 60-minutes and getting into the flow of the game because things are going to be faster than they happen in practice.”
Howard has been absolutely magnificent for the Wings, posting a 15-5-1 record, a 1.83 GAA and a .931 save percentage. But even the league’s No. 1 goaltender, who leads in wins and goals-against, needs a break every now and again.
“It’s good to get a little break, but me being the competitor, I like to be out there for the guys, but at the same time Ty needs to play,” said Howard, who started 25 straight games as a rookie in 2009-10. “It’s important to our team he gets on the ice and does a great job. Last time he was here he played really well. When you’re playing a lot, it’s good to get a little mental break here and there, but I enjoy being out there every single night.”
And this is some smart marketing by Roose, who notes that the Red Wings and their fans aren’t too keen on the fact that Jimmy Howard’s not on the All-Star ballot:
A grassroots movement is underway to get Howard selected to play in the game on Ottawa in the end of January. Started by Detroit radio station WRIF-FM and deejay Meltdown, the campaign is picking up steam.
“Has he played well for us? Yes. Do we like him? Absolutely,” Babcock said. “Who’s the best goalie in the Western Conference? Who has the best numbers? Howard? Then maybe he should be on the ballot. I think as a player you worry about the things that you can control, and how you’re playing. You do good things on the ice and good things happen to you as far as notoriety goes. And yet to me, it would be a real honor for him. He was in the running for rookie of the year a couple of years ago, if I’m not mistaken. He’s been a very important player for us and he continues to get better, so good for him.”
Something tells me that the honest truth of the matter is that these ballots are both printed up and coded into form in the middle of October, and as such, more than a few players who have scintillating starts tend to get omitted from the proceedings every season. I know it sounds silly to suggest that the printings thereof are an issue in 2011, but it’s true…
• It sounds like Chuck Pleiness of the Macomb Daily made the trek out West as he filed this slate of post-practice quips from Babcock...
“[Conklin] had a shutout the last time we were in here, didn’t he? It’s important to get him in, and Howie’s played great and I think Conks will play great tomorrow. He played great last time we came in here,” Wings coach Mike Babcock told the media after practice.
The Wings enter Sunday’s game on a seven-game winning streak.
“To me our guys are playing with way more tempo, they’re working harder and they’re in good spots defensively, therefore we have the puck,” Babcock said. “I thought we started off great last night and then we fell off that’s what we’ve been, falling off some games, but we’ve gotten off to good starts and established our game and found ways to win.”
As well as a notebook in which Valtteri Filpppula receives fitting praise for his fine start and better-late-than-never maturation into the 50-to-70-point producer Wings fans, myself included, hoped we’d see two or three years ago:
“The biggest thing is his age,” [Red Wings GM Ken] Holland said. “He’s 27. Everybody wants a 23-, 24-, 25-year-old to be a good player. If you’re a really good player in the NHL at 23, 24, you’re a star, and not everybody is a star. It takes time to feel comfortable with the league and your responsibilities. He’s comfortable with the league,” Holland continued. “He’s confident. As he plays good he gets more responsibility. He’s more confident hanging on to the puck.”
Filppula is tied for second on the team in goals scored and is third on the team in points (21). He is on pace to blow past his career highs in goals (19 in 2007-08) and points (40 in 2008-09).
“I think Fil’s really coming into his own,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “This last while, he’s been, if not our best, right up there with our best. He’s playing with enormous confidence. You’ve got to give him credit. I don’t know if it’s just he’s coming of age or playing the wing with Z, I don’t really know what it is. They’re playing well.”
“Playing with Z,” and specifically playing as a winger instead of a center, seems to have freed Filppula from concentrating on his defensive responsibilities to the detriment of his fantastic skating speed and ability to shoot the puck pretty darn well when he chooses to do so, and while Filppula says that his adjustment hasn’t been seamless, he’s got a helluva center to help him along:
“It’s a little different and it always takes a little time to get used to,” Filppula said. “Playing in your end is a lot different. Other than that, it hasn’t changed too much with how we play. I have to play a little closer to the boards, something that I’ve been practicing.(Zetterberg’s) great with the puck, he’s great without the puck, and when he has the puck, you just try to get open and he’s going to give it to you,” Filppula added. “At the same time, when I have the puck, he’s working hard to try to get available. So, he makes it easy to get him the puck as well.”
Zetterberg has also benefited seeing a spike in his point totals with two goals and five assists in his last six games.
“He’s skating very well,” Zetterberg said of Filppula. “He can make good plays. He’s easy to play with. It’s nice he’s getting rewarded with some goals.”
As for Filppula’s infamous unwillingness to shoot the puck, it’s plain old gone:
“I’m trying to go to the net a little more and trying to shoot the puck a little more,” Filppula said. “I think that’s the main two things that I’ve tried to focus on. A lot of goals are scored by getting rebounds, and I’m just trying to go to the net and find pucks.”
So far, so good.
Also: Via Bill, part 2: Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski didn’t list Jimmy Howard among his top five goaltenders playing in the NHL at present, but I just don’t think it’s that big a deal. We’re not hearing much about Nicklas Lidstrom’s name in the Norris Trophy race, and suggestions that Pavel Datsyuk was regaining his Selke Trophy-winning form have been late in coming, but that’s the way things go when you’re a Red Wing—it’s harder to impress people on a team that’s consistently good, even when you’re stealing the show.
I don’t like to accuse Wyshynski of baiting anybody, but I do think that Puck Daddy’s done it before, just like any other website (see: The Hockey News going with, “Ask Adam: Will the Wings Stay in the West? as the title of Adam Proteau’s Friday mailbag, which barely touched upon the Red Wings’ Western Conference residency because THN knows a picture of Red Wings players and said question will generate web hits and/or discussion) goes after the low-hanging fruit thanks to the fact that we Wings fans are a wonderful combination of passionate, intelligent, very outspoken and Detroit insecure.
In other words, and this might sound silly to many of you citizens of Hockeytown who weren’t born or raised in Michigan, Wings fans in particular wear more tinfoil than other teams’ fans because we’re an anomaly. We come from a town where our sports teams have generally been middling at best over the past 20 years, and yet we’re the gold standard, so we’re quite protective of the ever-present line that the Wings are supposedly getting too old and are too slow, small and European to succeed (that started in 1995, when the Wings acquired Igor Larionov and Slava Fetisov, and it’s never stopped), but Michiganders—who I’d argue are as patriotic as Canadians, wearing their pride in being from a state with rotten weather, bad roads, great food and nice people on their sleeves, hats, backpacks, bumpers and everywhere else that you can squeeze a reminder of loyalty to a Michigan team—also see Detroit as the heart and soul of the state, and…
“I’m from Detroit” isn’t just a statement of pride; it’s also acknowledging that you identify with a place that’s been a national punchline since long before the Wings were good, a place whose reputation is even worse than its unfortunate realities in terms of crime and poverty, and a place whose very real negatives all but eclipse its positives and the pride so many Michiganders take in it, so we more or less cringe when we say that we’re Detroiters (even if we weren’t born or raised there, many Michiganders say they’re “from Detroit” by default), and we cringe when we say we’re Wings fans, too, even though the wings are pretty damn good, because we know the digs are coming. Thus the Simultaneous Superiority and Inferiority Complex for which the hockey world mocks us and milks us whenever it can.
As for Bill’s take, well, you guys know I respect the hell out of the Chief—I wish me coming back when I did didn’t look like I don’t like the guy or something, because I really do admire him—but he’s the resident rabble-rouser, and I’m the, “I’ve got some serious-ass chronic illnesses, so I don’t have the extra energy to sweat the small stuff” guy. That and I just read so much of this stuff and see the “low-hanging fruit” option batted about so very often and baited so very regularly that its’ my opinion that it’s more important that you vote for Jimmy, or that you send me a lovely photoshop or something so that I can team up with The Production Line or something (they’re the professional marketers; I’m the schlub with the English degree) to work on a fantabulous “Vote for Jimmah” campaign that will rival the amount of $$ we’re all going to raise for H2H3 in a month or so.
Red Wings GM Ken Holland took offence to a note in this spot, indicating that this was the beginning of the end of this era for the Red Wings. In fact, Holland points out that Nicklas Lidstrom is playing better right now on defence than he did in last year’s Norris Trophy winning season. “He doesn’t age,” said Holland. The Red Wings, by the way, are playing at a 113-point pace, which if continued would represent their 12th straight 100-point-plus season.
Better defensively, he’s pinching more than I’ve seen him do at any point in his career, and the torn ligament in his right elbow seems to have healed to the point that Lidstrom’s legendary reach with one hand on his stick seems to have returned…
• In the multimedia department, the Wings’ website posted a “week in review” clip showcasing the Wings’ last November games…
• Also in the multimedia department, here’s the Wings receiving the Chris Greicus Celebrity Award from the Make-A-Wish Foundation for rocking the house when it comes to granting wishes to people who need ‘em filled:
You cannot possibly tell me that when you found out that one-time Behind the Jersey and then Winging it in Motown blogger Christy Hammond became the Wings’ charity coordinator, you didn’t think that the team would do anything less than begin to knock the charitable ball out of the park on an incredibly regular basis, and I think this award speaks to her presence on the team’s charity roster;
• And, via the Wings, here’s my contribution to the low-hanging fruit department:
Update #1: The AP re-posted its article from earlier this week discussing potential realignment scenarios ahead of Monday and Tuesday’s Board of Governors’ meetings in Pebble Beach, CA (what, they couldn’t meet in Edmonton?). It’s a repeat but if you want to talk about the fact that the Wings are probably stuck in the West (see? That’s baiting for you!), go ahead.
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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.