The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/24/11 at 03:14 AM ET
Updated at 1:11 AM: The Detroit Red Wings had hoped to return from their 3-game swing through Western Canada humming Meatloaf’s “Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad,” but instead, the Wings began their Christmas break when Red Bird III landed at Metro Airport just before 4:30 in the morning on Friday, most likely dropping the f-bombs from Tenacious D’s “The Road” (NSFW link) instead.
After playing a decent game in their 3-2 win over Edmonton, the Wings, well, collided with the Canucks repeatedly, but came out on the losing end of a 4-3 decision, and instead of learning their lessons from games one and two, the Wings combined the rear-dragging fatigue from the Edmonton game and the unnecessarily expended energy thanks to a tremendously lackluster start in a 3-2 loss to Calgary.
As such, the Wings will find themselves in sixth place in the Western Conference, two points ahead of Nashville, when they fly to Tennessee and the house of horrors that is the Bridgestone Arena on Monday morning (the Predators lost 6-3 to Dallas on Friday night; the Blues are only a point behind the Wings thanks to a 3-2 win over Phoenix, and the Wings play the Blues on Tuesday and Saturday) so the Wings reflected upon their sub-par play of late while speaking to the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
Coach Mike Babcock didn’t like much about the week other than the play of Darren Helm’s line with Danny Cleary and Drew Miller, saying the three “carried us on this road trip, let’s be honest. The rest of us haven’t been good enough. On this trip, we looked like a team that doesn’t skate well and yet you and I who are around the team a lot know we skate real well.”
And then they talked about the first non-working weekend the team will enjoy in a long, long time:
Immediately after the loss, the Wings acknowledged there’s much work to be done come Monday, when they resume playing with a game at Nashville, but for these next two days, it’s about taking advantage of the time off.
“We’re all looking forward to the break, to recharge and come back after Christmas again,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom said. “It’ll be nice to get this break.”
Every player’s body could use a breather; take Pavel Datsyuk, who didn’t take face-offs until the third period in Calgary because he was sore from a slash the previous night.
The break is as much mental as it is physical. With no practices again until Monday morning, Howard will be “glued to the TV, watching the Lions, and I’ll probably watch the Green Bay game Sunday.”
As Howard told St. James, “Baby’s first Christmas” isn’t exactly James Howard IV’s cup of tea, at least not yet, anyway…
“He has no idea what’s going on,” Howard said, smiling. “He’s going to be happy when he gets up and gets a bottle. It’ll be fun for Rachel and I and our family, but the biggest thrill in his life right now is getting a bath. I just think this break is great because it’s the one day of the year I think we deserve to be able to spend time with our families. We’re constantly on the road, going back and forth all over the country, and to be able to get these three days is going to be great for us.”
I hope it’s great for them and I hope it’s great for you—and safe, of course.
We indulged in some trade talk on Friday afternoon, and on Friday morning, I mentioned that ESPN’s Craig Custance confirmed the Wings’ interest in the most attractive undrafted free agent of the year in Western Michigan University defenseman Danny Dekeyser (welcome to the, “We can get a player who’s probably going to play in the NHL for only the price of his contract!” frenzy, in which, 29 teams are in furious pursuit of a #3/4 defenseman in the Bob Rouse and/or Brad Stuart mold).
I’m not sure whether the Wings are going to add anyone at the trade deadline, cap space included, if the prices are too high or if Ken Holland doesn’t believe that players available can fill his needs any better than the ones who are already in the Wings’ system, but the Edmonton Journal’s Jim Matheson is working his butt off to trade Ales Hemsky for the Oilers, and he keeps on suggesting that the Wings would gladly take the mercurial goal scorer who at least shows up on a consistent basis (unlike, say, Alex Semin) off the Oilers’ hands—and as Matheson is selling, of course, he’s lobbying for the moon and/or stars in compensation:
Lest you think there is no market for Hemsky, guess again. He’s only 28, not 33.
The Oilers got a first-round draft pick from the Los Angeles Kings for the fans’ pinata Dustin Penner last February. They turned that into high-end Swedish prospect defenceman Oscar Klefbom (19th overall choice), who will be a huge part of his club’s world junior squad, and another blue-liner, Colten Teubert, who has played 10 Oilers games (14 minutes a night). He looks like somebody who could be a solid No. 5 or 6 defender down the road, somebody with some bite.
There is a market for just about everybody. Did you think anybody would take Tomas Kaberle off the hands of Carolina Hurricanes general manager Jim Rutherford?
If Hemsky is traded to any team, it’ll definitely be to a contender or a team that has to make the playoffs, even for only one round to make some money for the owner. The Red Wings, for sure, are in the picture (Hemsky has 17 points in 27 games and some sterling work against Detroit in the 2006 playoffs). I suspect the Predators, dying for some offence (19 points in 25 career games), the Penguins, always looking for a top-six winger, and New York Rangers are in the mix, too.
I’m not so sure that the Wings are interested in another finesse player, but that’s just me.
As it’s Matheson’s Hockey World I’m stealing quotes from, we’ll take a gander at the rest of his quips related to Wings players…
When asked who the best Russian-born player in today’s NHL was Nikolai Khabibulin, cut right to the chase. “(Pavel) Datsyuk. Not even close,” said the Oilers goalie, who loves the 200-foot game Datsyuk plays, also his ability to make so many tough plays look easy.
“If he cheated like a lot of offensive guys (more intent on playing with the puck than without it), he’d win the scoring title every year,” said [former Oiler Rob] Brown.
Red Wings goalie Jimmy Howard, who incredibly isn’t on the all-star ballot, is on pace to break Martin Brodeur’s record for wins in a season (48), with 20 already. He could play 70 games this year. Detroit doesn’t seem to have a ton of faith in its backup goalie Ty Conklin (1-4, 3.23 avg., .889 save percentage) so Howard is out there pretty much morning, noon and night. The problem with that is possibly burning him out before the playoffs. I suspect Howard will be in the all-star game in Ottawa somehow.
If you’re one for predictions, even from a legitimate journalist, Matheson doesn’t believe that Nicklas Lidstrom has a chance in hell of winning the Norris Trophy this year, either, so take that with some salt, and I will say this about Matheson and Wings-related rumors, lest you have visions of a top-ten scorer for a seventh-round draft pick dancing in your head: when Matheson was really “on” regarding the Wings and free agents or re-signings, it involved Ken Holland’s dealings with Edmonton-based agent Rich Winter.
Matheson knew that the Wings would have a hard time re-signing Dominik Hasek after the 2006-2007 season, and they did; he started dropping hints that Marian Hossa might leave the Penguins for a one-year deal with an unlikely team in June of 2008, and he did, and a year later, Matheson kept insisting that no matter how hard Ken Holland would try, Winter would employ the same, “You got him for a discount, but now I’m shooting for the moon and nothing less” stance that he did with Hasek (see: $750,000 becomes $2.5 million), and Matheson even knew that the Wings were shopping Hossa’s rights (to Los Angeles) before Winter ensured that Hossa went to the team that both bid the highest and bid the most heavily front-loaded deal.
Since then, we haven’t heard much about the Wings’ contractual leanings from Matheson, but now that the Hemsky talk’s come up, well…Guess which agent happens to represent #83? We might be talking about a case of a familiar source dangling suitable destinations for his client in front of a hockey writer willing to indulge the agent’s GM-baiting for an easy story’s worth of salaciousness.
That’s swell and all, but it doesn’t mean that these scenarios have any basis in discerning what Ken Holland actually plans on paying for a player who actually addresses a need as opposed to overpaying for a player whose destination might satisfy an agent and/or hockey writer’s whimsy.
Speaking of Winter clients past and present—and their unlikely friends—after Jimmy Howard joined Ryan Miller’s chorus regarding goalies getting ran versus their right to deal with traffic without being ran over (via MLive’s Ansar Khan), SI’s Stu Hackel revisited the topic, and then Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy” Wyshynski fired back with a barking suggestion that goalies dive too much anyway, and as such, any more protection would be hand-holding.
Then he posted a video entitled “Osgood Dives” to substantiate his claims (and Osgood, of course, became very good friends with Dominik Hasek during Dom’s third stint as a Wing). These Puck Daddy writers seem to have a complicated relationship with the Red Wings and their fans, don’t they?
While we’re talking about controversy and columnists from Alberta, it’s wonderful that the Globe and Mail’s Eric Duhatschek is back, and as an adjunct to his weekly notebook, the Calgarian posted one of those comment captions that does the job of revealing the writer’s take on certain situations pretty darn well:
“We’re probably not going to get the benefit of the doubt on a whole lot of calls because of our reputation and the team we have.”
- Kevin Bieksa…The Vancouver defenceman ruminates over the Canucks’ long-standing reputation as whiners and complainers after a big hit by Detroit’s Nicklas Kronwall on Ryan Kesler went unpunished during Wednesday’s 4-2 win over the Red Wings.
I’ve got to admit it: when I first read Duhatschek’s blurb, I giggled. Maybe it takes one to know one, but I giggled anyway.
We’ll shift gears by referencing the kind of player who might keep one Kevin Bieksa “honest” should Mike Babcock choose to tap the defenseman on the shoulder when the Wings return to British Columbia on February 2nd, or when the Canucks finally come to the Joe on February 23rd.
Mike Commodore acquitted himself very, very well while playing against the Calgary Flames, and while Commodore hasn’t exactly won the #6 defenseman’s spot back from Jakub Kindl yet (Kindl has faded a bit of late, but has otherwise played rock solid hockey), Commodore assured MLive’s Ansar Khan that he’s working his ass off to stay in shape and acquit himself well when opportunities to play arise:
“I’ve played four games in the calendar year of 2011, so I can’t be too hard on myself,” Commodore said. “Defensively, there were a few times where I was caught in spots where I wasn’t sure and, at this level, if you’re not sure for a second or two, they’re making a play. Other than that I felt, as the game moved on, I moved the puck better.”
Commodore replaced Jakub Kindl, a healthy scratch after a bad game Wednesday in Vancouver. Commodore logged 13:17, playing mostly with Jonathan Ericsson, and finished with a plus-1 rating. He said he can’t remember the last time he was on the ice for a goal his team scored.
“I’ve worked my (rear) off, off the ice,” Commodore said. “It hasn’t been easy. I’ve run every set of stairs in the Western Conference, it seems like, in the arenas. But until you’ve put some games together, I can run up and down those stairs until the cows come home, I’m still going to feel gassed.”
Commodore hopes he can at least play semi-regularly, but it will depend on the team’s health and Kindl’s performance.
“The way things are going for me, I can’t afford to make any glaring (mistakes),” Commodore said. “I’m not out there thinking ‘I can’t make mistakes.’ I don’t think you can play any sport like that.”
The Wings play four times over the course of six nights next week, and between January 3rd and their last pre-All-Star Break game on January 25rd, the Wings play 12 more games—that’s an average of just over one game every other night—so Commodore will definitely earn another chance to impress in short order.
Speaking of that third pairing, ESPN’s Sean Allen offered some advice to fantasy hockey players regarding Kindl and his oft-maligned partner while “forecasting” strong performances for Wings players over the course of Monday’s game against Nashville, Tuesday’s home tilt against the Blues, Friday’s game in Chicago and the New Year’s Eve rematch against Ken Hitchcock’s St. Louis team:
Detroit Red Wings: You can’t take advantage of the Red Wings’ strong defensive rating on the waiver wire because Jimmy Howard is a workhorse and owned in every league. To do something about the D:7 on the Forecaster, you should look to the plus/minus ratings. Daniel Cleary (available in 46 percent of ESPN leagues) has a plus-7 in December. Jonathan Ericsson and Jakub Kindl are both available in 99 percent of ESPN leagues and are a combined plus-13 as a defensive pairing in the same span.
In the prospect department, the Wings’ World Junior Championship participants (Petr Mrazek for the Czech Republic, Teemu Pulkkinen for Finland, Mattias Backman for Sweden and Marek Tvrdon and Tomas Jurco for Slovakia) start play on Monday, but the college hockey players are at home, European leagues tend to take Christmas breaks and the Grand Rapids Griffins won’t return to play until next Wednesday (earning a six-day Christmas break), but several Wings prospects were quite busy on Friday evening.
The Toledo Walleye defeated the Kalamazoo K-Wings 2-1, with Thomas McCollum stopping 36 of the 38 shots he faced, Gleason Fournier scoring a goal and unofficial Wings prospect Bryan Rufenach adding an assist.
The Walleye’s website, the K-Wings’ website and the Kalamazoo Gazette’s Pam Shebast (spiffy photo of McCollum making a save included) provide recaps, and it does bear noting that McCollum’s become the Walleye’s goaltender of note lately. With Joey MacDonald playing ahead of Jordan Pearce in Grand Rapids, McCollum needs the playing time, and he’s getting it in spades.
In theory, anyway, McCollum, MacDonald and Pearce will all get a start or two with the Wings by the time the season ends, but here’s hoping that they only do so for the hell of it as opposed to anyone getting dinged, regardless of the justifiability of hits possibly leading to said dingings.
I’m guessing that MLive’s Ansar Khan will fire off one more column around 7 or 8 AM this morning, and that the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan will offer a notebook as well, but I’m just going to file this report now, just after Midnight on December 24th, and update it as necessary as a full-fledged “overnight report.”
I’ll stick around for the holiday (the mom is regrettably working both today and on Christmas, so the least I can do is drive her to and from work), but if we’re gonna do our long-term planning now, it’s entirely possible that I’ll be absent for the Wings-Hawks game due to an outing with old friends, and I’m not quite sure whether anything will pop up between now and then given that people actually want to see me now that I’m back on my feet.
I’m not feeling particularly Christmassy at present, so you’ll have to wait for Fa Ra Ra unless you want to watch the Wings have a Merry Murphsmas again…
And instead, I’ll close for now with what I hope is a little kick in the pants to a player who’s only just started to sleepwalk after displaying an unprecedented level of focus and commitment to showing up on an every-night basis via one of my favorite Queens of the Stone Age songs:
Until next time, stay safe, enjoy the holiday if you can, try not to maim yourself or your relatives and stay…
Update: Here’s Ted Kulfan’s off-day notebook from the Detroit News. Kulfan focuses on both the fact that the Wings looked and played “slow”...
“It’s a time for us to go home and enjoy time with our families and get re-energized,” said coach Mike Babcock, not pleased with the Wings’ 1-2 western Canada trip; they squeezed past Edmonton in the opener. “Because we have to scratch and claw to get our game back.”
“I didn’t think we skated very good on this whole trip,” Babcock said. “You play back-to-back (games) in the NHL all the time. You have to dig in and find a way to win. We didn’t make the hard decision to do that. We looked on this trip like a team that doesn’t skate very well — and we skate very well. We didn’t look very quick.”
As well as the team’s horrific special teams play…
The Wings went 0 for 8 on the power play during the trip. Against Vancouver and Calgary, when a power play goal could have gotten the Wings back into games, it fizzled — even allowing an important, although questionable, late shorthanded goal in Vancouver.
“If you can get one power-play goal it can get you back in the game,” said Nicklas Lidstrom of game-changing situations. “That’s when you have to get your power play going in a game like (that).”
The fact that they didn’t “get started on time” during any of their three games…
“It’s not the way we expected to play,” said Miller, one of the Wings’ best players on the trip. “The positive we can take out of it is we had a big push in the third period and we tried to come back. But it’s tough to come back on the road. There’s no excuse for the way we started. We have to play better than that.”
And the obvious:
The Wings don’t play again until Monday in Nashville. The next night, they host St. Louis. Later in the week, the Wings again go back-to-back, visiting Chicago Friday and hosting St. Louis in the traditional New Year’s Eve game. It’s an important week against three contending Central Division rivals.
“Those are big points for us,” Miller said. “We have to have those.”
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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.