The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/14/11 at 10:00 AM ET
On a, “My sinus infection just said Congress Tart” and you can only spew so much BS before feeling dippy morning: Red Wings coach Mike Babcock is essentially emulating Scotty Bowman as the regular season winds down, splitting up the Wings’ lines into “home” and “road” units (with the latter including Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk on separate lines) to make sure that his players are comfortable playing alongside as many teammates as possible.
As the Free Press’s Helene St. James suggests, Babcock’s line machinations are good in theory in terms of playoff match-ups, but they aren’t necessarily popular with his charges:
Over the weekend, Babcock had [Datsyuk and Zetterberg] with Johan Franzen for Friday’s 2-1 overtime home victory against the Oilers, while the second line featured Valtteri Filppula with Danny Cleary and Todd Bertuzzi. In Saturday’s 5-3 victory at St. Louis, Datsyuk was between Franzen and Tomas Holmstrom, and Zetterberg centered Bertuzzi and Cleary.
“I’m going to try to have one set that I use at home, one set on the road, and I’m trying to get so everybody is comfortable with the fact that you play with whoever, but you just play,” Babcock said. “A player doesn’t want to come to the rink every day and play with a different linemate, so that’s why I’d like to have two scenarios. It’s important to be able to go back and forth for matchups at playoff time.”
The road versions of the top lines balance shooters in Franzen and Cleary with net-front presences in Holmstrom and Bertuzzi. Lines can, of course, always change during a game in response to various situations, but overall, stability makes sense.
“I think in the long run you wish you can find it so you can keep lines together and guys can build chemistry,” Zetterberg said. “It’s definitely good to have if you need a goal, that you can mix it up, but also it’s nice if we can find combinations we like and keep those.”
As St. James notes, the Wings’ “third line,” which received fourth-line minutes on Sunday, had Mike Modano centering Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler on the road and Justin Abdelakder and Tomas Holmstrom at home—though Filppula and Modano received time on the power play—which is fine with Modano…
“It brings a sense of calmness to everybody that we’re not scrambling, trying to find who works with who,” Modano said. “I think it just gives Mike Babcock a little peace of mind, too, when he knows that he’s got people feeling comfortable with one another out there.”
And the Wings’ biggest constant of late has involved the play of their fourth-liners. Given Darren Helm’s performance over the vast majority of the regular season and Abdelkader’s dominance of late, it’s starting to look like Drew Miller, Kris Draper and the still-injured Patrick Eaves will be competing for one roster spot on the team’s eventual playoff roster. Babcock spoke to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan about Helm and Abdelkader’s development…
“The reason they’re going to be such good players is because they’re so committed,” Babcock said. “Draper is a good example for them and I hope they can have careers that Draper has had. That kind of leader in the room, that kind of person. They’re playing very well. They play heavy, they’re hard on the other teams’ defense, and put miles on them.”
As well as Helm’s 11 goals and increasingly consistent ability to provide offense, both at even strength and on the penalty-kill. Helm insists that he’s utilizing his speed a little less, which has allowed his hands to catch up to his legs:
“For sure, some of it is confidence,” said Helm, who is learning to slow the game down. “Some of that is experience, and I’ve been fortunate to score some goals here lately and that just helps your confidence. I’ve been trying to keep my head up out there, taking my time and seeing what is happening out there (on the ice).”
Abdelkader thinks Helm is playing with increasing confidence.
“For sure, 11 goals, how can you not?” Abdelkader said. “He’s starting to slow the game down a little. He’s so fast, sometimes he was too fast for his own good. But he’s slowing the game down and finding the back of the net.”
Babcock also shook up the Wings’ defensive pairings in reuniting Brad Stuart and Niklas Kronwall on Friday night, placing Jonathan Ericsson alongside Nicklas Lidstrom so that he could keep the Ruslan Salei-Jakub Kindl pairing intact, and that’s paid off in spades as Kindl’s essentially begun to challenge his mentor for a job. Kindl’s happy to contribute…
“I feel like I can play in this league and I believe I can play in this league,” he said. “It all comes with confidence, and I believe I can be better.”
And he’s happy that, at least until Brian Rafalski returns this week, he hasn’t had to shuffle in and out of the lineup, which presented a huge hurdle for him because he’d played as the Griffins’ #1/2 defenseman last season, but found himself sitting in the press box or working out in the locker room unless a Wing was injured in October, November and December:
“It was tough but I did everything I could to stay in shape,” said Kindl, who was sent down to Grand Rapids for a two-week conditioning stint in December. “Playing that time in the minors helped. I was able to play more minutes, get used to playing, and when I came back, I did everything I could to stay ready.”
In the prospect department: In Sweden, surprisingly, Expressen’s Henrik Sjoberg reports that Red Wings prospect Calle Jarnkrok, who suffered a severely dislocated left shoulder in Saturday’s playoff game between Brynas IF and Farjestads BK, had his shoulder popped back into its joint at a hospital in Gavle, Sweden (not Karlstad, sorry for the error on Sunday morning), and he told Sjoberg that he’s both feeling well and hopes to play again, though not in Monday’s game (per Aftonbladet).
Jarnkrok told Sjoberg that he still feels that he’s got enough power in his shot (Jarnkrok shoots right-handed, so it’s his top hand that’s the issue) to continue playing, and that he’ll wear some sort of added protection which might limit his mobility slightly;
• Back over on this side of the Atlantic, Wings prospect Riley Sheahan scored a goal and helped the University of Notre Dame secure a 4-2 victory over Lake Superior State University on Sunday, securing a berth in the CCHA semifinals.
The CCHA semifinals take place this upcoming weekend at Joe Louis Arena, with, according to the CCHA’s website, the University of Michigan tangling with Western Michigan University on Friday, March 18th at 8:05 PM, and Notre Dame taking on Miami of Ohio at 4:35 PM. Both games will be aired on Fox Sports Detroit Plus, and as an FYI, WXYZ’s Tom Leyden reports that WXYZ will offer 12 suite tickets to the game in an online contest this week;
• Also in college hockey, Wings prospect Max Nicastro’s Boston University Terriers dropped a 5-4 decision to Northeastern University on Sunday, ending their season. Nicastro has two more years of college eligibility, but the 6’3” defender remains a very raw prospect;
• If you’re keeping score at home, per the Canadian Press, Wings prospect Trevor Parkes hit the 30-goal-mark in the QMJHL by scoring 2 goals in the Montreal Juniors’ 7-0 win over Baie-Comeau;
• Given the talk about Red Wings prospect and University of Maine Black Bears forward Gustav Nyquist possibly turning pro this week and signing with the Wings in order to jump-start his pro development via a stint with the Grand Rapids Griffins—despite the fact that the Griffins have already submitted a 22-man playoff roster to the AHL, they’re allowed to add players to that list if the team signs someone to a pro try-out, which would eliminate Nyquist’s eligibility to compete in his senior year at Maine—it’s worth noting that, as Hockeysfuture.com’s DJ Powers points out, Nyquist’s usual center, 6’1,” 200-lb forward Tanner House, is a free agent, and posted 33 points over the course of 33 games this past season.
So is Miami University forward Andy Miele, who’s all of 5’8” but has posted 65 points over the course of 41 games thus far. I don’t know whether he can compete at the pro level given that he’s very, very slight, with a generously-listed weight of 175 lbs probably including his hockey equipment, but he’s definitely got an elite work ethic and is both speedy and highly-skilled. Miele took part in the Wings’ summer prospect tournament last summer;
• In the AHL, the Grand Rapids Griffins won a 5-4 shootout decision over the San Antonio Rampage thanks to a 5-shootout-save performance from Jordan Pearce, who stopped 21 of 25 regulation shots. The Griffins’ website, the Grand Rapids Press, the Rampage’s website and San Antonio Express-News’s Tony Uminski provide recaps of the game, which the Griffins won despite trailing by a 4-2 deficit in the 3rd period;
And, also of Red Wings-related note: If you’re keeping score at home, Crain’s Detroit Business notes that Red Wings owner Mike Ilitch is ranked as the 737th-richest person in the world in Forbes’ latest list of the world’s billionaires, with a net worth of $1.7 billion;
• The Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson reports that Swedish national team coach Per Marts and his assistant, Johan Garpenlov (a former Wing), watched Linus Omark and the Edmonton Oilers play in Pittsburgh on Sunday. I’m sure that the pair have spoken to Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Nicklas Lidstrom, Jonathan Ericsson and Tomas Holmstrom about their possible spring plans if the Wings meet an unfortunately early demise in the playoffs;
• And as CC Moor and a few other KK members asked me to weigh in on two topics:
1. I’m not sure what lines best suit the Wings going into the playoffs—I think Babcock will figure that out—but in terms of how the Wings match up, very specifically, with the Vancouver Canucks, I’d really compare them to the Anaheim Ducks of two or three seasons ago. They don’t have any truly elite defensemen, but by committee, Edler, Ehrhoff, Bieksa, Ballard, Hamhuis and Salo give them the level of puck movement the Ducks had with Niedermayer and Pronger, and up front, after you get past the Sedins, Kesler and Samuelsson, they’re a very physically aggressive team whose pluggers and instigators are headlined by Manny Malhotra and pain-in-the-Wings-butts Raffi Torres and Alex Burrows. As Alain Vigneault and Ducks coach Randy Carlyle both spent time with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, they employ a very similar system of play, and Luongo’s become more like Giguere than a world-beater, but he’s still good enough to send a team that fires tons of un-screened, un-tipped shots on goal when it’s off-kilter (see: Detroit at times) into fits;
2. Regarding my gabba about Jonathan Ericsson, Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler’s futures with the team, I feel it necessary to underline my stance regarding any Wings that struggle: I’ve never rooted against a Red Wing, even if he drove me nuts.
I think that Ericsson, despite his gaffes and status as the team’s resident post-Andreas Lilja/Brett Lebda whipping boy, has a solid NHL future, and I believe that his future with the *Wings* will boil down to money. If he wants to earn $2 million or more per season on a long-term contract, the Wings might let him walk, but they’re more patient with their players than we are, and if he can be locked ind at a reasonable wage, they may very well give Ericsson another season or three—and the same can be said for Filppula and Hudler, given their relatively reasonable salaries in this day and age—to fully realize his potential.
In my ideal Wings fan’s world, though this might sound silly, I hope that every player fulfills his “upside” and plays for the Wings for as long as possible. The salary cap, 23-man roster limits and tighter waiver rules don’t afford NHL teams with much margin for error in the player personnel department, but I’ve always appreciated the fact that the Wings will stick with what comes closest to a stable roster as possible, and I think that the Wings’ record over the last 15 or so seasons bears out the fact that teams which turn over half the roster every year tend to rise and fall much more dramatically in the standings (see: Philadelphia, Boston, Chicago) over time than the teams that choose to stay the course unless player performances or budgetary issues force them to make moves.
Besides, more roster continuity allows fans to get to know players and find more reasons to spend money to put their butts in seats and t-shirts or jerseys on their backs, and like most fans, I want to see the Wings do well both on the ice and in the pocketbook. I’d rather follow a team that preaches a consistency of message, purpose, style of play and players than a team that makes a splashy trade every other week but goes nowhere 9 times out of 10 (see: every team Brian Burke’s built and disassembled).
Update 10:28 AM: MLive’s Ansar Khan also focused on the play of the Draper-Helm-Abdelkader line in his Monday morning column:
“They’re playing very well and they’re heavy to play against,” Babcock said after the game. “What I mean by heavy is they’re hard on the other team’s (defense), they put miles on them. It doesn’t matter when you go on the road. We didn’t worry about a matchup one time tonight. We rolled the lines out the door. That makes it a lot easier.”
Helm has been strong most of the season and has provided an offensive spark of late, with six points (including four goals) in seven games. He scored his 11th goal on Saturday, equaling his career high from last season. Abdelkader also scored a goal, and seems to have more jump playing on the wing. Draper, who’s been rotated with Drew Miller as a healthy scratch the past couple of weeks, logged more PK minutes (4:09) than he has in a while and won 8-of-9 faceoffs.
Helm, Miller (three goals in four games) and Abdelkader have combined for eight goals in the past seven games. That’s twice as many goals as Johan Franzen (one), Danny Cleary (one), Jiri Hudler (one), Valtteri Filppula (one), Henrik Zetterberg (none) and Todd Bertuzzi (none) have combined for during that stretch.
I find it appropriate and then some that Babcock’s stating the obvious—the Wings want Helm and Abdelkader to essentially succeed Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby as the Wings’ “glue guys” and leaders in workout room as well as the locker room:
“The reason (Helm and Abdelkader) are going to be such good players is they’re so committed,” Babcock said. “And Draper’s a great example for them. I hope that they can have careers like Drapes has had. Be that kind of person and that kind of leader in the room and that kind of guy who does everything right and makes the young guys around him better. That’s the challenge. That’s what Draper’s job is, to make sure that those guys are going to be here for many years, after Drapes is in management, to do the things that he’s done.”
Also of note from Khan:
Defenseman Ruslan Salei returned to southern California after Saturday’s game to be with his wife, who is expecting their third child this week. Salei is expected to miss games against Washington (Wednesday at home) and Columbus (Thursday away).
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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.