The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/01/12 at 06:57 AM ET
From a purely practical perspective, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock’s decision to give his players as many days away from the rink as possible from the middle of February on plain old makes sense. After game 55 or so, even if you’ve got special teams that are as inconsistent as the Wings’ have been, and even if you’re one gritty and ugly win removed from a three-game losing streak, as the calendar turns from February to March…
There are only so many meetings that you can have and so many drills you can run in practice before your players tune you out, and if you keep banging your players’ heads into walls, well…Fans of the St. Louis Blues, a team that now leads the Central Division and will probably lead the NHL by the time the Wings tangle with the Wild on Friday (those are the pratfalls of having a light schedule: for the next week or so, pundits will stare at the standings and lament how the mighty Wings have fallen simply because they have a relatively “light” schedule over the next two weeks), will probably find this out in a Hitchcockian year or two, but we’ll let them learn how’ “Hitch’s” grinding on his players, even as a “kinder and gentler” Hitch, tends to diminish teams’ dominance over time on their own.
In any case, Babcock’s learned over his tenure with the Wings that, by March, you more or less have what you have for the regular season, and as such, the more “off days” the players can have as April approaches, the less mentally and physically worn and torn they are come playoff time.
From a Red Wings fan’s perspective, however, there are some minuses to the Wings not taking to the ice between Tuesday night’s tilt and sometime late this morning, and those largely involve uncertainty regarding player statuses: Pavel Datsyuk probably didn’t skate on Wednesday, and until he tests that mending knee and gets his “wind” back, we won’t know whether Ken Holland’s prediction that Datsyuk would take three weeks from last Monday’s surgery to heal will pan out; it’s probably not a bad thing that Kyle Quincey rested his mending groin, but again, we won’t know whether he’ll be able to return for Friday’s game against Minnesota or Sunday’s game against Chicago until he skates both today and tomorrow; and while it was assumed from the get-go that Nicklas Lidstrom would, at most, miss the Columbus game due to a sore ankle sustained by a puck hopping on him during a fluky play against the Avs last Saturday, we won’t know whether the Red Wings’ captain will be “ready to go” until Friday at the earliest, either.
While giving the team mental and physical rest is good for them, it’s not necessarily great for jittery fans like you and me as we obviously want to know when Datsyuk, Quincey, Lidstrom and even Ericsson can return right effing now. Instead, we have to wait, and waiting, especially if you’re as jittery and skittish as I am, is bloody annoying (I’ll leave the anti-anxiety medication in the candy dish so everybody can have a piece. Hell, maybe that should be a TMR tradition…M&M’s an Klonopin for everybody).
In terms of the MSM over or under-rating Wings players and management, I don’t think it should surprise you or me that TSN’s Scott Cullen doesn’t mention a single Wing while evaluating three-quarter-pole individual award nominees, or that I think that ESPN’s Scott Burnside might be giving Ken Holland a little “Lidstrom effect” recognition for his long-term success while mentioning Holland as perhaps the NHL’s fourth-best general manager (and there’s some method to my madness here):
4. Ken Holland, Detroit Red Wings:Holland would have liked a shot at Gaustad, but he did his pre-deadline shopping early and got a terrific piece in defenseman Kyle Quincey, whom he acquired from Tampa Bay for a first-round draft pick. Quincey has emerged as a talented puck-mover, and the former-Wings prospect should help the team on what they hope will be another significant playoff run. Bigger picture, Quincey is a nice fit moving forward given the expected departure this summer of Brad Stuart and the retirement—he really will retire one of these years—of Nicklas Lidstrom. A lot of people are looking forward to what the Wings will be doing on the free agent market this summer given the cap room they’re going to have, but Holland’s shrewd drafting and player acquisition has the Wings in the hunt for the top seed in the Western Conference and the Stanley Cup once again.
And as you hopefully know by now, I’m no fan of “power rankings,” but MLive’s Brendan Savage penned a column combining the various lists on Tuesday afternoon, and it included an absolute hoot from some moron from Denver who swore up and down that he was over the whole, “Kyle Quincey revealed that nobody wants to play for the team I cover, how can I capitalize on this because I didn’t like him while I covered him here?” angle…
2. Detroit Red Wings Last Week: 1: Is the addition of only Kyle Quincey near the deadline (for a first-round pick) going to be enough for the playoff run? Good question. The Quincey era didn’t get off to a great start, with some ill-advised comments about his former Avalanche team, then an 0-1-1 start in the Wings’ lineup. It was somewhat surprising that GM Ken Holland didn’t do more at the deadline. Their under-.500 road record is a bit of a concern, but not all that much.
And I’ll stick with the low-hanging fruit as the CBC’s Tim Wharnsby stated the obvious in issuing a late-breaking slate of rankings...
4. DETROIT RED WINGS (42-19-3) Since Pavel Datsyuk was knocked out of action with a knee injury four games ago, the Red Wings have checked in with only one victory.
Before concluding with something that requires more explanation than quotation:
USA Today’s power rankings for both players and teams result from the tabulation of votes by a 12-person panel, and as such…
They’re ranking the Wings as the 2nd-best team at present, but believe that Pavel Datsyuk is now the league’s 5th-most valuable player, that Jimmy Howard’s the league’s 4th-best goaltender and that Nicklas Lidstrom is the league’s 4th-best defenseman.
Again, with a “light” schedule on tap—the Wings play on Friday against the Wild, Sunday against Chicago, Tuesday in Philadelphia, and then have a two-day break between said games and back-to-back slates at home against Los Angeles and on the road against Nashville on Friday the 9th and Saturday the 10th, respectively, and then have another two-day break before heading out West to swing through California one more time starting on the 13th, so the first half of March involves a low-by-Wings-standards eight games over the month’s first 17 days, and that relative inactivity will yield a decent amount of looking up at the Blues and Canucks in the standings and media types focusing on other teams and other teams’ players for the vast majority of a month in which the Wings play “only” 14 times (FTR: my old pal Monkeywrench does a lovely job of producing Detroit sports team-themed wallpapers for your computers).
Now we’re going to slowly but surely shift gears toward actual content via this quip from the Free Press’s Steve Schrader:
There had been talk of the Red Wings pointing out to the NHL the stats kept by the local crew in Columbus on Tuesday night—they were credited with two hits to 33 for the Blue Jackets—but the home cooking was so widely reported in the hockey media, they figured why bother.
If you caught Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards’ presser after the Wings’ 5-2 win, Richards did a great job of keeping a straight face and suggesting that the hit chart might not be “100% accurate” when a Blue Jackets beat writer asked him how that 33-to-2 stat showed how absolutely fantastic the Blue Jackets were in terms of their physical play (it’s at the 2:10 mark if you don’t want to watch an opposing team’s coach blather for 2 minutes to catch the sly smile; don’t even ask me to weigh in as to what Colton Gillies apparently tried to do at one point during the game):
The injuries to the Red Wings’ defense meant and now mean that Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith started vying to win the #6 defenseman’s spot until at least early April on Monday night, and while both players acquitted themselves relatively well, with Smith playing a steady and unspectacular game (sometimes it’s good to not stick out) and Kindl playing perhaps the most demonstrative hockey he’s displayed since perhaps October, and while Smith, who was initially slated to play alongside Doug Janik (he was pretty damn good, too) but ended up playing with Kindl, earned top marks for his performance, as noted by the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness...
“Calling up Smitty and Janik they did a real good job,” Babcock said. “I thought Smitty was excellent, Janik was real steady for us.”
“I thought our D played good,” said Joey MacDonald, who won his seventh straight start. “Smitty and Janik came up, stepped into the lineup and played well.”
“We had a few bodies out, the guys that came up did a really good job, both Smitty and Janik played real well for us,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “Nice to see we have that good of defensemen in our organization. Everyone chipped in, we need to do that this time of year, it’s good to see everyone get on the scoring sheet.”
Janik was a plus-2 in just over 18 minutes of ice time, 2:36 of which came shorthanded, while Smith was a plus-1 in 13:15 of ice time.
“It’s good for both of us to get our feet wet again here,” Smith said. “I think the biggest thing is we give the forwards the puck, they’re so talented. I think it worked out for us.
“Hopefully, I did well enough to get maybe some more time for next game,” Smith added. “It’s a process. You’ve got to earn your time.”
“We were planning on me and Kronner but we decided they wanted to match (Brad Stuart) and Kronner up against Nash’s line which obviously worked out,” Smith said. “It was kind of like we switched all over the place, different pairings all the time, but I think the boys responded well.”
But Kindl earned a conversation with the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about his attempt to regain a foothold with the organization…
“Some things you can’t control,” Kindl said. “I know I’m getting better every day and I feel that on the ice. I’m 25 and I still believe I have a big future.”
The Red Wings certainly believe that, too. Kindl had beaten out Mike Commodore for the sixth defenseman spot, but found himself sitting after the acquisition of Kyle Quincey. But with Ericsson out for probably a month, Kindl will get plenty of opportunities to grow.
“The situation with (Ericsson) will help me get back in the lineup, but you don’t want to see one of your teammates get hurt like that,” Kindl said. “But it’s an opportunity for me to step up and I have to do a good job out there.”
Kindl’s size (6-foot-3 and 216 pounds), skill and mobility always have interested the Red Wings, who believe the defensive side of his game eventually will catch up. With Kindl, Quincey, Ericsson and Brendan Smith, the Red Wings have a formidable defense going forward.
“We haven’t forgotten about (Kindl),” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I like the development in this guy, his play with the puck is excellent. He has to go get pucks and compete and be good defensively. But he’s come a long way over two years.”
“When you look at all the defensemen we have, there’s a lot of depth and a lot of good defensemen,” he said. “It’s not easy.”
I’m admittedly a little puzzled as to whether, given Babcock and Ken Holland’s comments about essentially bringing up Brendan Smith once and for all, whether this might be Kindl’s last chance to earn a full-time job with the Wings, but the Wings also insisted during the summer that the 2011-2012 season would be Smith’s “year” to break in as a rookie, and then they went out and got Commodore, so I get the feeling that this is more or less audition time for the both of them if the unthinkable happens and both Brad Stuart and the perfect human decide to either hang up their skates or, in Stuart’s case, relocate, but we know that the Wings are going to sell Stuart pretty hard on staying, hope that Lidstrom will return and may very well reinforce their blueline with a free agent signing if top talent’s available, so Smith may still have another AHL season in front of him. Kindl’s future is much less certain, and that’s where playing well now may very well determine his future with the organization.
Given Holland’s comments about the availability of Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Chris Conner and Fabian Brunnstrom swaying him toward adding Quincey instead of adding to the team up front, it could be make-or-break-it time for Cory Emmerton and Jan Mursak as well, and in Mursak’s case, MLive’s Ansar Khan notes that the Wings hope that Mursak might one day carve out a role for himself as a scorer—he was pretty prolific as a junior-aged player—instead of simply mucking and grinding his way into the lineup:
“He can really shoot the puck. He scores every day in practice,’’ Babcock said. “You don’t score in practice and not translate it to games eventually. We think he’s going to be an important player one day.’‘
Mursak scored his first goal of the season in Tuesday’s 5-2 win at Columbus, his second goal in 31 NHL games.
“It feels good, hopefully I can score a few more,’’ Mursak said. “I think our line (with Tomas Holmstrom and Cory Emmerton) played pretty good. We were pretty strong on the puck down low.’‘
Part of becoming a better scorer is putting yourself in better scoring position. That’s what Mursak did when he went to the net, took a pass from Emmerton, spun and fired in a shot.
“I’ve been feeling good. I think I was playing pretty well, too,’’ Mursak said. “I didn’t give up much, played good defensively, but I still have to get better in the offensive zone to put myself in better scoring position. I was playing too much in the corners. (Tuesday), I just went in front of the net. Hopefully, in the next few games, I can get even better at that.’‘
Mursak is getting the opportunity because Pavel Datsyuk has missed four games following arthroscopic knee surgery. Datsyuk is expected to start skating in the next couple of days and return within two weeks.
“If you don’t play for a while and then they put you in it’s kind of hard to get back. So right now I played quite a few games in a row and I’m getting more comfortable from game to game.’‘
As both Khan and the Free Press’s Helene St. James note, the Wings had hoped that Mursak and a healthy Patrick Eaves would give their third and fourth lines all the forechecking they could want, but Mursak’s broken ankle suffered last October derailed their plans:
“We thought he was going to be a big part of things,” Babcock said. “We think he’s going to be a real good player for us over time. He can really shoot the puck. He scores every day in practice. You don’t score in practice and not translate into the game eventually.”
Mursak scored his first goal Tuesday to help the Wings to a 5-2 victory at Columbus. His primary role as a fourth liner is to provide energy and hit the other team’s defensemen. But the Wings pride themselves on their secondary scoring, so it was satisfying for all when Mursak was down low to take a pass from Cory Emmerton.
“Yeah, it feels good, it’s the first one of the year and hopefully I can score a few more, too,” Mursak said. “I’ve been feeling good. I think I was playing pretty well, too, didn’t give up much defensively, but I still had to get better in the offensive zone to put myself in a better scoring position.”
“If you don’t play for a while and then they put you in, it’s kind of hard to get back,” he said. “It’s not as easy as all the people would think. Right now I’ve played quite a few games in a row and I’m getting more comfortable.”
While Johan Franzen actually scored while playing between Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi on Monday night, and registered an assist in the Wings’ win while playing alongside Henrik Zetterberg and Valtteri Filppula—or in other words, when Babcock threw his lines into a blender—Babcock told St. James that Franzen might start Friday night’s game playing alongside Darren Helm and Drew Miller (while Justin Abdelkader centers Bertuzzi and Cleary)...
“With Mule in that spot, and Bert on the other line with Clears, is you can play anybody against anybody,” Babcock said. “We didn’t have to worry at all, and on the road, I thought that was real good. Maybe we’ll do something different at home, but on the road, I didn’t mind that at all.”
And St. James provides our lone off-day status update, and it’s not a swell one:
General manager Ken Holland said Brendan Smith and Doug Janik, called up from Grand Rapids for Tuesday’s game, will be at practice today and remain in Detroit pending the statuses of Nicklas Lidstrom (ankle) and Kyle Quincey (groin), both of whom are day-to-day.
After the Wings practice today, Todd Bertuzzi visits an elementary school in Beverly Hills and Ken Kal entertains some elementary school students from Madison Heights during and after practice.
After this weekend’s games, the Wings will head to Philadelphia, and on Tuesday, as DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose notes, the Wings will tangle with the Flyers after they retire Mark Howe’s #2:
[W]hen Philadelphia owner Ed Snider called Howe and asked the former defenseman if he was fine with having his black-and-orange No. 2 raised to the rafters at the Wells Fargo Center, Howe said, “Sure.” But next Tuesday’s ceremony was nearly nixed by the league, which apparently prohibits pre-game events on the ice once the calendar flips to March.
“Ed told me that the league told him ‘no’, but they really wanted to do this with the Red Wings in town,” said Howe, the Wings’ director of pro scouting.
As a courtesy, the Flyers put in a call to the Wings’ front office just to double-check if they were OK with honoring the former player, which they both share in common.
Of course, the Wings didn’t have any objection to seeing history when Gordie and Mark Howe becomes just the second father-son tandem in any professional sport to both have their numbers retired. Bobby and Brett Hull were the first father and son to have their jersey numbers retired.
Howe, 56, played for three NHL clubs, including the Wings from 1992-95. But it was his 10 seasons in Philadelphia where Howe made a name for himself. All told, Howe amassed 1,246 career points in 22 professional seasons. His 742 NHL points ranks 13th among Hall of Fame defensemen.
Howe is the 62nd NHL defensemen to enter the Hall, and just the second American-born blue liner – joining New York Rangers great Brian Leetch – to be enshrined. And Howe’s number will be retired six-days shy of the 40th anniversary commemorating the night when his famous father’s No. 9 became the first digit so honored by the Wings’ franchise.
“It’ll be a special night, for sure,” Mark Howe said.
I believe the Flyers will honor Brad McCrimmon’s memory on Tuesday night as well.
Meanwhile, in Grand Rapids, the Griffins will be without their top defensive tandem until Janik and Smith return, and the Grand Rapids Press’s Peter J. Wallner reports that the Griffins hope that Lidstrom and Quincey get healthy as soon as possible as the Griffins are in their own desperate battle to earn a playoff spot:
That has left [Griffins captain] Garnet Exelby, Travis Ehrhardt, Logan Pyett and Brian Lashoff to handle the chores this week during practice.
“We’re just going to have to squeeze a little bit more out of the guys that are still here,” said Exelby, a 10-year veteran and team captain. “It will open up some opportunities here, guys who may not have gotten much power play time probably will and, at the same time, guys who don’t usually kill penalties will have to pitch in.”
With a three-game weekend looming beginning at home Friday, something will likely happen – either the Red Wings will send someone down or the Griffins will call up a defenseman or two from ECHL Toledo. The Walleyes have Gleason Fournier, who was with the Griffins earlier this season, and [Bryan Rufenach] who has AHL experience, among others.
The loss of Smith, a 23-year-old touted second-year player, and Janik, a 31-year-old veteran, comes as the Griffins have surged with three consecutive wins and allowed four goals in that time, a figure that coincides with the arrival of veteran Ty Conklin in goal.
“Those guys were both great on the power play, good shots, said Ehrhardt, who’s in his third season with the Griffins. “They’re up there for a reason, so we’ll just have to adjust.
“We’ve been on a nice little run, have made some adjustments and having Ty has made a big difference.”
Meantime, the defense doesn’t rest.
“We have had to go with four D the last few practices,” said Exelby, “so everyone’s been looking around wondering when we’re going to get some reinforcements.”
Also of Red Wings-related note this morning: If you missed it, the sports director of the most Red Wings-friendly TV station in town, WXYZ’s Don Shane, announced his retirement on Wednesday evening. His last broadcast day will be on March 20th;
• According to the Wings’ Twitter account and Fox Sports Detroit’s Trevor Thompson, the Ted Lindsay foundation held a charity dinner to benefit autism research on Tuesday in Troy, and he brought the Sekle Trophy, Norris Trophy, and the NHLPA’s MVP award, which was re-named after Lindsay himself;
• Via Paul, Hockey’s Future’s DJ Powers mentioned a name frequently tied to the Wings in listing the college hockey-playing free agents who are on NHL teams’ wish lists:
Dan DeKeyser, D Sophomore, Western Michigan University: With 30 NHL teams pursuing him, Dan DeKeyser has become the hottest commodity on the collegiate free agent market this season. And it’s not hard to see why. Two NHL teams that have shown some of the greatest interest in the Broncos rearguard are the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The Clay Township, MI native began making a name for himself with Western Michigan last season as an excellent mobile, puck-moving defenseman. This season, he has taken his development to a whole new level and that has had NHL teams clamoring to get glimpses of him.
DeKeyser’s combination of size (6’3, 190 lbs), great feet and terrific shot has made NHL teams take notice. His skating is very good, but it is his footwork that separates DeKeyser from many collegiate defensemen and it’s really something to marvel at. He moves exceedingly well both in the defensive and offensive zones. The 10 or so pounds that he added over the summer has simply enhanced that attribute, making DeKeyser not only a stronger skater, but also heightening his fundamentally sound positional play as well. Where this is particularly evident is in his ability to contain players and limiting spaces on the ice.
Another attribute that has gotten the attention of NHL teams is DeKeyser’s shot. He possesses a very powerful and remarkably accurate shot. It isn’t often that his shots miss the net. While he can score goals himself, DeKeyser’s shots aren’t always to score but rather to create rebounds that can be difficult to control.
DeKeyser can be seen playing on the Broncos’ top defensive pairing, alongside junior Luke Witkowski (TB). He logs upwards of 25-30 minutes per game, playing in all situations. He has played in all 36 games for Western Michigan to date, posting 13 points (five goals, eight assists). DeKeyser’s plus-11 currently ranks third on the Broncos roster.
DeKeyser projects to be more of a two-way defenseman due to his great offensive ability and equally stellar defensive ability.
Have you seen Brad Stuart play lately? or Kyle Quincey? That’s what Dekeyser is. That classic “Swiss Army Knife” defenseman who’s most useful when he’s utilized as a #3/4 defenseman, but someone who can also play on the top pairing, play on the bottom pairing, kill penalties, play on the power play, etc. etc.
These defensemen are very hard to find, which is why the Wings snagged Quincey as a de-facto replacement for Stuart at the deadline instead of trying to search for a free agent who could fill the role (these players usually command more than it will take to re-sign Quincey, and when they work out poorly, you wind up with Mike Komisarek instead of Bob Rouse), and that’s why they’re so interested in Dekeyser;
• And finally, I fielded a request to engage in more player analysis/assessment in my recaps. I’ve tended not to do so because I’ve generally assumed that you’re more interested in what the players have to say about their own performances, and because I tend to get my head chewed off if I suggest that Ericsson or Franzen acquitted themselves decently, but I’d be willing to continue to put my foot in my mouth and deal with a few more slings and arrows if you do want me to offer my assessments. Let me know what you think.
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About The Malik Report
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.