The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/15/12 at 08:14 PM ET
Updated 2x at 8:31 PM: The Detroit Red Wings are facing perhaps the nastiest twist in their play-every-other-day-from-New Year’s Eve Eve-on schedule tomorrow: after hosting the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night (7:30 PM EST/FSD/MSG Plus unless you have Time-Warner Cable in New York/WXYT), they head to Dallas to play the Stars on Tuesday, head to Phoenix for a Thursday night match-up, and then come back to the Joe for a Saturday game against the Blue Jackets (their pre-ASG break schedule ends with a home game against St. Louis on Monday the 23rd and a final tilt in Montreal on Wednesday the 25th; it’s highly likely that Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard will head to Ottawa from there).
So I wasn’t exactly expecting to hear that the Wings had practiced on the only “off-day” between a three-games-in-four-nights slate, especially as the team’s coming off a 3-2 overtime victory over Chicago on Saturday night, and very, very rarely practices on Sundays. The Red Wings’ Twitter account, however, reports that the Wings did indeed practice today, and it wasn’t optional for a reason:
Today’s Season Ticket Holder practice is underway at the Joe. http://twitpic.com/87nagd
We’ll get back to that little tidbit in a little while, but the Wings were made available to the media as well as their season ticket-holders on Sunday, and they spoke to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about the fact that they have to avoid thinking about the fact that they can set a home-ice winning streak record on Monday if they are to hang in tough with the Sabres (who come into town having dropped a 4-2 decision to Buffalo on Saturday night):
“We haven’t been at home that often,” Danny Cleary said. “But before the season we talked about being better at home — that was a focus; we were booed off the ice a few times last season.”
Considering the quality of teams the Wings have had the past 20 years, the record would be a nice accomplishment for this roster.
“We’ve had some great teams,” said Nicklas Lidstrom, who was part of three Stanley Cup-winning teams. “We should be proud of our home record but we want to build on it.”
Coach Mike Babcock is pleased with the success at home but doesn’t lose sight of the big picture.
“I want to win tomorrow — for me that’s how simple it is,” Babcock said. “It’s always nice to have streaks but we need to get two points. All you have to look at is the standings and if you don’t keep winning in our division, you have a way of falling out of things in a hurry.”
The Wings sit one point behind the Blackhawks (who play the Sharks this evening), two ahead of the St. Louis Blues and three ahead of the Nashville Predators in the Central Division, though the Wings are tied with Vancouver for the most wins in the Western Conference with 28 (the Hawks and Blues have won 26 games, and the Predators have won 25; that stat will become increasingly important down the stretch as wins are the first tie-breaker), and as MLive’s Ansar Khan notes, the Wings have a prime opportunity to capture that 15th consecutive win against a favorable opponent tomorrow:
The Sabres are struggling, having gone 9-15-5 since a 6-2 loss to the Boston Bruins on Nov. 12. That’s the game in which goaltender Ryan Miller suffered a concussion on a controversial hit from Milan Lucic. Miller is back and expected to start for the Sabres. If so, he’ll be playing against his brother, Drew, for the first time in two years.
“I’m not 100-perecnt sure he’s playing, but I think the rotation worked out that he’s playing,’’ Drew Miller said of his brother.
Here are the lines the Red Wings skated with today. They don’t anticipate any lineup changes:
Drew’s older brother, Oxford, MI’s Nathan Gerbe and long-time Grand Rapids Griffins captain Matt Ellis head to town on more than just a losing note: the Sabres, who sit five pointsset a record of its own during Saturday night’s loss:
Michael Grabner scored twice in the third period, and Evgeni Nabokov made 23 saves to become the 26th goaltender in league history to win 300 games, as the New York Islanders doubled up the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 on Saturday night.
Down 3-2 with 1:24 left in the third, the Sabres had a chance to tie the game when Thomas Vanek was awarded a penalty shot when the Islanders net was deliberately knocked off. He came in slowly and fired a shot low to the left that clearly had Nabokov beaten, but rang the puck off the post.
Vanek took the shot wearing a facemask after being struck near his right eye earlier in the game. Like many in the building, he was convinced he had tied the game.
“Right before, Lindy asked me how my vison was, and I thought I was good to go to score,” said Vanek, sporting a large red welt near his right eye after the game. “I thought I had the right play in mind, just gotta put it in.”
The loss was Buffalo’s eighth straight on the road, setting a new franchise record in this dubious category. The previous mark of seven games was achieved twice back in 1970. The Sabres haven’t won away from the First Niagara Center since December 2 in Nashville.
Coming off last night’s win over Toronto, the loss also prevented the Sabres from winning two straight games for the eighth time since November 12 – a span of 64 days.
The Associated Press’s recap continues telling the Sabres’ tale...
The Sabres—beset all season with injuries—have lost a franchise-worst eight straight road games in regulation. They lost seven straight on the road twice during the team’s inaugural season in 1970-71. Buffalo’s longest road winless streak was 23 games in 1971-72 when they lost 15 and had eight ties.
“This was another tough night for us,” said Ruff, the league’s longest-tenured coach, who has been behind the Buffalo bench since July 1997.
The loss came in the opener of a seven-game road trip for the Sabres, whose next home game is Feb. 1.
Buffalo has had 19 players miss at least one game due to injury, including All-Star goalie Ryan Miller—out nine games with a concussion and whiplash—and defenseman Tyler Myers, who has sat out 19 games because of a broken wrist.
Only Enroth, Vanek, Jason Pominville and Luke Adam, have avoided missing a game because of injury.
The Sabres, who beat Toronto on Friday, haven’t won back-to-back games since Nov. 11.
“It’s a tough one,” said Sabres goalie Jhonas Enroth, who made 36 saves. “We weren’t really ready from the start. We didn’t play as good as we can or as good as we have to do on the road.”
The Sabres also lost another defenseman. Robyn Regehr left with an upper-body injury with 14:11 to play, just seconds after he took a wrist shot.
“He’s going to miss a little bit of time,” Ruff said.
Vogl provided a slate of injury updates as of today...
—-Thomas Vanek’s jaw and eye were evaluated and he has no broken bones in the wake of getting struck by a Jochen Hecht shot Saturday on Long Island. Vanek, who is still trying to overcome the flu, finished that game wearing a full cage and Ruff said he didn’t know if that would continue Monday.
“That will be based on Thomas’ own preference, on how tender the area is,” Ruff said.
—-Defenseman Robyn Regehr is staying on the road with the team but is likely to miss all four games this week with the upper-body injury he suffered Saturday night. Ruff is hopeful, but not yet certain, that Andrej Sekera can slide back into the lineup tomorrow in Regehr’s place.
—-Jordan Leopold was also battling the flu last night but still managed to play 25 minutes, 41 seconds. Tyler Myers (31:05) and Mike Weber (26:58) were forced into huge minutes because of the Regehr injury and the spotty play of Marc-Andre Gragnani and Joe Finley. The Buffalo defense was guilty of several grievous turnovers Ruff said simply can’t happen.
“When you throw people into bigger minutes, you see how that can impact their game,” said Ruff. “We need better play. Our puck management has to be a lot better. We threw some pucks into the middle that were point-blank opportunities. We won’t be able to get away with that stuff [Monday].”
And in the “motivation” department, Matt Ellis might not provide the impact of Gerbe, a talented sophomore who’s posted 15 points in 33 games, or Miller, who’s slipped of late but tends to play lights-out hockey against the Wings, but BuffaloSabres.com’s Kevin Snow notes that Ellis has more than enough reasons to dazzle on the Sabres’ fourth line tomorrow night:
“I had caught the eye of one person in Detroit – (former Red Wings GM) Jimmy Devellano – and they decided to give me a shot. They spoke to me after Christmas time of my final junior season, and said they were probably going to invite me to training camp on a tryout basis. But from then on my confidence just soared. The Wings rewarded me with a three-year entry level contract that spring.”
Ellis played his first pro season in 2002-03 with the Toledo Storm of the ECHL under the guidance of head coach Claude Noel, now the rookie bench boss of the Winnipeg Jets. That was followed by four seasons with the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins. In 2005-06, Ellis was named the youngest captain in Grand Rapids history, tabbed to lead a team that also included youngsters like Jiri Hudler, Tomas Kopecky, Valteri Filppula and Jimmy Howard.
“It was special to come up the ranks with those guys, many of whom went on to win a Stanley Cup in Detroit. I’ve got a lot of great memories of playing with them.”
The entire Detroit experience still resonates for Ellis. He ended up playing 51 games with the Red Wings from 2006-2008, before being claimed on waivers by Los Angeles on February 21, 2008. Ellis scored six points with Detroit, including his first career NHL goal (a game winner, of course) in San Jose on October 18, 2007.
“It was an amazing experience just to be in training camp with some of the best players to ever play the game. Seeing their work ethic and what they brought to the table. And rubbing shoulders with true winners; guys that have won the Cup numerous times. It’s a really special place to be, and looking back on it now, it was a true honor to be in the same locker room as some of those great players.
“That’s the organization that gave me a break, gave me a start. They helped me develop not only as a hockey player, but as a person. And I think it really helped develop some of the habits that I have today.”
Shifting gears, we’re going to revisit some trade suggestions that might have been lost in the shuffle of the recap/overnight report. The Fourth Period has re-posted a pair of suggestions which the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson made in his Hockey World column:
As much as the Detroit Red Wings covet Ryan Suter as an unrestricted free agent to help their defence, the guy they absolutely would love to sign this summer is the New Jersey Devils’ unrestricted free agent captain Zach Parise. Can you imagine Parise and Pavel Datsyuk on the same line? That shouldn’t be too tough a sell job for general manager Ken Holland, who can probably offer five years at an average of $8.25 million. The Devils need Parise to get to the playoffs and make some money for even one round for the fractured ownership, so sources say they won’t trade him at the deadline.
Parise is loyal, but money talks. “That is true,” said Parise. The Devils don’t have any. Things are shaky enough with the Devils’ ownership they’re not always staying in the five-star hotels on the road like before.
The Devils may not be able to retain Parise as they slowly but surely slide toward bankruptcy, but pundits have also stated the obvious in terms of a potentially better “fit”—the Minnesota Wild have slid down the standings of late, but with Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi in tow, I’m sure the team wouldn’t mind adding an elite center who also happens to be a Minneapolis native this summer.
As for this one…
If Brad Stuart is an unrestricted free agent this summer and wants to play for a California team, you have to think the Sharks will take another run at their former first-round draft pick. The Anaheim Ducks, too. Stuart’s family has been living in California while he’s been playing for the Red Wings.
As I said this morning, the West Michigan Hockey Examiner’s Chad Cramner reminded us that Stuart doesn’t just have two no-longer-toddler sons to worry about: his step-daughter’s 16, and her comfort zone might be the deciding factor in terms of whether Stuart chooses to bring his family to Detroit or bring himself back to his family.
I don’t know whether Ken Holland might be more inclined to attempt to add another top-four defenseman at the trade deadline as opposed to this summer (Ryan Suter?) if Stuart chooses to leave the Wings, but I do think that we’ll know which direction Stuart’s leaning in by February, and if he’s not planning on remaining in Detroit, we may just see the Wings stack their blueline a month from now.
Matheson also delivered a, “The math adds up, and sooner or later, things should break through” quip which doesn’t involve jittery Wings fans like me worrying about the team coming out flat as a Delicious Dustin Penner Pancake against Buffalo tomorrow night:
Who’s Not: Detroit Red Wings forward Henrik Zetterberg hasn’t scored since Dec. 17.
Heading back to Buffalo, I know that the Wings are theoretically looking to bolster their forward lines, too, but I’m having trouble believing that the player the Buffalo News’s Bucky Gleason suggests is a “fit” is any more that than he was when Matheson suggested as much last weekend:
Don’t be surprised if Oilers winger Ryan Smyth finished the season in Detroit or Chicago, so long as one of them is willing to give up a defenseman. Edmonton continues to shop Ales Hemsky, but teams aren’t lining up for the underachieving forward.
I do agree with Gleason regarding the likelihood that the Devils and Lou Lamoriello will want to try to hold onto Parise for as long as possible, however:
Devils winger Zach Parise, expected to be a big-ticket item as a free agent this summer, said the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup will be more of a factor than money when making his decision. But let’s not forget the money, either.
Parise, pocketing $6 million this season, has not had any contract talks with the Devils and is almost certain to be available in July. He could command $7 million annually or more depending on the team and its cap space.
FYI: He’s from Minneapolis. The Wild could be an up-and-coming team and has money available next year.
“The money is definitely important,” Parise said. “That’s real life, let’s face it. I’m not going to say it’s not. That’s realistic. But most important for me is being competitive and having a chance to win the Stanley Cup.”
I’ll let you have the last word about this particularly persistent Wings-related rumor, per the Hockey News’s Lyle “Spector” Richardson:
With the Feb. 27 trade deadline about six weeks away, Carolina Hurricanes right winger Tuomo Ruutu and defenseman Tim Gleason have been frequently mentioned as trade candidates. Ruutu and Gleason are eligible for unrestricted free agency this summer and aren’t expected to be re-signed by the Hurricanes. Add in the fact their team is among the few considered “sellers” at this point and it’s no wonder they’ve become fixtures in the trade rumor mill.
Ruutu, who turns 29 in February, has had his best seasons with the Hurricanes, including a 26-goal, 54-point performance in 2008-09 and a career-high 57 points last season. In 45 games this season, Ruutu was the Hurricanes second-leading scorer, with 15 goals and 26 points, on pace for 27 goals and 47 points. He’s a disciplined, physical player (second in the NHL in hits last season with 309) who plays well at both ends of the ice.
One down side to Ruutu is his lengthy injury history. Knee injuries hampered his development early in his career with the Chicago Blackhawks and a shoulder injury limited him to 54 games in 2009-10. Another is his lack of NHL playoff experience. In his eight seasons with Chicago and Carolina, Ruutu has only been in the playoffs once, in 2009, when the upstart Hurricanes defeated the New Jersey Devils and Boston Bruins on route to the Eastern Conference final before being swept by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Ruutu had only four points in 16 playoff games.
Still, his physical two-way play and decent scoring touch makes him a valuable commodity at this time of year for playoff contenders seeking top-six forward depth. He’s being paid $4.4 million for this season, though the salary cap hit is $3.8 million. More than half of that has been paid by the Hurricanes, which makes him an affordable pickup.
One possible destination is Detroit, where he could replace the fading Todd Bertuzzi as their second-line right winger.
The Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness also offers us something to chew on this evening via a slate of mid-season player grades. I’d prefer to offer you Pleiness’s intro and let you continue reading from there on out:
After what seemed like a rollercoaster ride to begin the first quarter of the season, the Wings have began playing more consistent hockey, especially on home ice. On Saturday, Detroit won its record-tying 14th consecutive to improve to 17-2-1 at Joe Louis Arena. However, life on the road has been a much different story for the Wings as they’re just 11-13-0.
“We’ve been fairly consistent, effort wise,” Wings coach Mike Babcock sad. “We’ve been fairly good defensively, fairly good on the power play, haven’t been as good on the penalty kill as we’d like. We haven’t been quite as good on the road as we’d like, been lights out at home. We’ve been a pretty consistent club, that doesn’t mean we’ve won consistently,” Babcock added. “We can get a lot better.”
Last year, the Wings had six more wins on the road (26-11-4) compared to home (21-14-6).
“That’s something we’re trying to figure out ourselves, too,” Nicklas Lidstrom said. “For whatever reason we’ve been using our speed a lot more at home. We’ve been coming wave after wave, going after teams a lot more than we do on the road. I just think we’ve been playing better, too,” Lidstrom added. “Whether it’s fore-checking or back-checking, we’re just playing harder at home.”
Okay, what the hell, two grades for gratuitous discussion’s sake:
Jiri Hudler (A-): 12 goals, 15 assists, +1 – Has reaped the benefits from playing on one of the Wings’ top two lines as well as seeing time on the power play; already a bounce-back year for him.
Jonathan Ericsson (B-): 1 goal, 7 assists, +14 – Developing into a pretty steady third pair defenseman; hasn’t been an offensive threat like the Wings had hoped.
Miller Lite Red Wing for a Day
Hey fans! Ever wonder what it’s like to be a Detroit Red Wing? Miller Lite, the official domestic beer of the Detroit Red Wings, wants to give you the opportunity to be an honorary Red Wing for a day!
One winner will have the opportunity to:
-Meet with Wings GM Ken Holland and receive an honorary Red Wing for a day certificate
-Watch the Red Wings practice
-Run drills on and off the ice with coaching staff
-Meet with team trainers, coaches and players
-Tour the Red Wings locker room
-Watch that evening’s game from the Miller Lite Party Deck and receive other great prizes!
How to enter:
Upload your best hockey picture and tell us why you should be selected as one of our top ten finalists. We’re looking for creativity, sincerity and passion! The top ten entries will be selected by Detroit Red Wings staff and will have their picture turned into a Red Wings trading card. The trading cards will then be posted online for fans to vote for the winner.
The top ten finalists will also receive printed copies of their personalized trading cards and other Miller Lite and Detroit Red Wings gear!
Rules and Limitations
Entrants must be 21 years of age or older and reside in the state of Michigan. The winner will be responsible for any transportation and/or hotel accommodations
And the Wings actually have a tour of Joe Louis Arena available on non-game-days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, which is pretty damn cool, and the Wings have done a remarkable amount of work ensuring that fans have more access to a team that, ten years ago, simply said, “If you want player access, buy a ticket”...
But I have a beef about the open practice issue. There’s an understandable divide between the average fan not having to pay to attend viewing parties where alums are signing autographs, free signings with current players at Meijer, etc. and the Wings taking care of their season ticket-holders with events like meet-and-greets, dinners and special benefits for spending a huge chunk of change on partial or full-season ticket plans as those kinds of investments are the Wings’ financial backbone…
And I understand that opening up the Joe for fans is not cheap or easy. Even if the Wings were to hold practices where the admission involves donations to, say, the Gleaner’s food bank (as they did a few years ago), the Wings have to pay to have somebody guard the parking lot, they’ve got to make sure the stairs are passable (and Johan Franzen doesn’t take care of those things all the time), have attendants at the doors, on the concourse, maybe open up a concessions stand, crank up the lights and open the bathrooms on the concourse, not allow workers to access all the seats (trust me, they’re in a constant state of repair), have security down by the locker room tunnel, maybe even call an ambulance to have an EMT on hand and clean up after fans, so opening the Joe is actually a very costly endeavor, but I still find it incredibly innervating that in an NHL where at least half the league’s teams hold some sort of semi-regular open practices or open morning skates, the Wings haven’t done so in three years.
I know that the average fan who doesn’t pay for their access isn’t necessarily the Wings’ first priority, and I understand that the team’s progressed toward a level of fan-friendliness that was impossible to imagine ten years ago, but there’s something to be said for having a season ticket-holder representative on hand while butts are in lower-bowl seats for free, a small donation or say, a $10-per-head admission free once or twice a season, and the Wings still don’t do that for some reason.
Update: NHL.com’s Davis Harper just penned a game preview:
Season Series: This is the second of two meetings this season. On Dec. 2, Detroit came to Buffalo with a six-game winning streak and left with a 4-1 win, behind 27 saves by All-Star goalie Jimmy Howard. Overall, Detroit has won 18 of the last 22 games between the teams, dating back to 1995-96.
Big Story: The struggling Sabres enter Detroit looking for any sort of momentum, but a victory won’t come easily against a Red Wings team that has won 14 in a row at Joe Louis Arena. With 57 points, Detroit is fifth in the West after a 3-2 overtime win over Chicago on Saturday - the second OT win over the Blackhawks in a week—but just one point out of first place in the three-way scramble for the lead in the Central Division. The Sabres began a seven-game trip with a 4-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Saturday.
Who’s Hot: Pavel Datsyuk set up both Detroit regulation goals Saturday, and has six assists in his last six games.
Injury Report: Few on Buffalo’s bench have avoided the injury bug. Brayden McNabb (concussion) and Robyn Regehr (upper body) are questionable for Monday’s game. Christian Ehrhoff (upper body), Andrej Sekera (upper body), Colin Stuart (lower body), Tyler Ennis (left ankle) and Corey Tropp (upper body) are on injured reserve. … Detroit’s Mike Commodore (bruised left ankle) is questionable, while Patrick Eaves (broken jaw) is out indefinitely.
Stat Pack: A trip to Detroit is a homecoming for Miller, who is expected to get the start in the state where he grew up and starred for Michigan State. However, Miller is just 2-5-2 with a 3.30 goals-against average in nine career matchups with Detroit. He’s also struggled on the road, losing his last six decisions with a 3.45 GAA.
Puck Drop: The home winning streak, matching mark set in 1964-65, has become a source of pride for the Wings, according to captain Nicklas Lidstrom.
“Even though we’re in the thick of a tight race, it is something we can be proud of as a team,” he said. “This franchise hasn’t done this since the 1960s, so it says a lot that we’ve been able to do it. ... It’s always good to have something to motivate you on any given night.”
Update #2: The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff penned a feature about Jimmy Howard:
Entering his third full season as the go-to goalie for the Detroit Red Wings, Jimmy Howard decided over the summer that his apprenticeship was over. Now was the time for him to take the bull by the horns and show the rest of the hockey world just how high he could soar. He set new goals from within, challenging himself to take the next step to status among the upper echelon of NHL netminders.
“Coming into this season, I felt like I could take more on in my play, and be more of a game changer,” Howard said.
You could put forth the argument that this season, when it comes to NHL puckstoppers, none have proven more effective than Howard, and hardly a dissenting voice would be heard.
Recording his NHL-leading 26th victory in Saturday’s 3-2 overtime decision over Central Division rivals the Chicago Blackhawks, Howard, 27, is tied for third in the league in shutouts (four), is sixth overall in goals-against average (2.04) and 10th in save percentage (.924).
“I think we get excellent goaltending right now, as good as we’ve had since I’ve been here for sure,” said Wings coach Mike Babcock, who’s started Dominik Hasek and Chris Osgood as goaltenders during his tenure behind the Detroit bench.
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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.