The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/12/12 at 05:21 AM ET
The injury-depleted Detroit Red Wings have slipped to fourth place in the Western Conference thanks to dropping three of their past four games, and coming off a 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, the Wings doubly re-set their body clocks—losing one hour when first returning from Nashville’s Central Time Zone, losing another thanks to “spring forward,” and three more via a Sunday evening flight to Los Angeles which deposited the team in California—for a three-game road swing which starts with a rematch against last Friday’s opponent in the revenge-minded Los Angeles Kings—at what would be the equivalent of 12:27 AM EST.
When the Wings’ players gather on the ice at the Kings’ practice facility later today, probably after Red Wings GM Ken Holland, who will spend Monday morning at the GM’s meetings, is on the golf course in Palm Beach, Gustav Nyquist will rejoin a cast of characters who haven’t even tried to skate since Friday in Todd Bertuzzi (groin), Pavel Datsyuk (knee) and Nicklas Lidstrom (bone bruise), and one who did in Jimmy Howard (groin).
In theory, the Red Wings, who now sit a stunning six points behind the St.Louis Blues, have a remarkably rough road ahead of them against the playoff-desperate Kings on
Tuesday, the spoiler-minded Ducks on
Wednesday and a potential—assuming they catch the Blues and avoid a first-round match-up with the Predators—first-round opponent in the San Jose Sharks (who might be regretting letting Ian White go?) next Saturday, thanks in no small part due to a mediocre 16-18-and-1 road record.
Like a Sherpa dancing one of the one-person-wide seams in the North Face of Mount Everest, with a 10,000-foot drop on one side, the Red Wings seem almost completely oblivious to their precarious nature of what the Detroit News’s Gregg Krupa duly notes is a 4-5-and-1 record over the past 10 games and a 2-and-3 record over their past 5, but Krupa found that Wings coach Mike Babcock suggested to a Nashville report that his team isn’t concerned at all about its struggles while (as Krupa points out) Brendan Smith, Gustav Nyquist and Joey MacDonald are making bids for full-time employment and spare parts like Doug Janik are vying for a spot on the playoff roster, too (especially if this mysterious “upper-body injury” ailing Jakub Kindl is related to his head, or if Jonathan Ericsson experiences any complications in healing from a chip fracture on his left wrist…And did I mention that Danny Cleary had his troublesome left knee drained of fluid yet again on Sunday?):
“No, not really,” he said. “I think we’re going to be just fine, to tell you the truth. Thanks.”
Joey MacDonald’s contribution to the fort holding grew with back-to-back starts last week against the Kings and Predators. But when he looks around, he sees lots of other good developments.
“You know what? We’re battling hard here,” MacDonald said. “When you’re down guys like Pav and Nick and Big E on the point there, it’s tough. But I thought the guys that we have, the young guys, are battling hard and we just have to learn from it.”
Howard and Bertuzzi likely are to return Tuesday, unless they have setbacks during practice sessions over the next two days. Lidstrom and Datsyuk may be back later in this four-game road trip, which continues Wednesday in Anaheim and Saturday in San Jose.
“We have some guys down, but for the most part I thought the effort was there,” Justin Abdelkader said. “Obviously, these points are huge and we’re not going to make any excuses. We just flat out have to be better.”
The time off accumulating for Lidstrom, Datsyuk, Bertuzzi and even Howard might make all four fresher in the playoffs.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good position by playing so well at home,” defenseman Ian White said. “We’ve got a few games here on the road and we’ll try to get things clicking for the playoffs.”
Ken Holland agreed with his coach’s assessment while telling the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness that Bertuzzi and Howard are all but certain to play for the Wings in short order…
“When the year starts you know you’re going to get injuries,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said in a phone interview Sunday. “It’s important to have depth. Also, injuries help you develop and grow your team if you can get through it. Fortunately we banked points away the first 50 games.”
And instead, Holland raved about the ways in which the team’s “depth” players have stepped up:
“The development of Joey MacDonald and Brendan Smith has been real important for us staying where we’re at,” Holland said. “And our coaches have gotten a chance to look at Gustav Nyquist for a couple of games now. Hopefully we’re developing a little more depth. I think it all depends where you’re at in the standings when injuries occur,” Holland added. “If you’re struggling to make the playoffs and you’re hit with injuries it’s a disaster, but fortunately we banked a lot of points away and we’re weathering the storm on the standings front. We want to get healthy here and take a run at home ice.”
Holland’s not worried about the Wings’ road record, either:
“I don’t know if we’ve played that bad on the road of late,” Holland said. “We out shot Nashville almost 2-1 (Saturday) night and we out shot Philadelphia 35-12 the last two periods. I don’t know if we’ve played that bad.”
The Wings, who set an NHL record for consecutive wins on home ice earlier this season with 23, are 28-4-2 at Joe Louis Arena this season.
“We’ve just found ways to win at home and we’ve found ways to lose on the road,” Holland said. “Specialty teams have been a factor. I think we were 2-for-4 (on the penalty kill) Saturday night and 0-for-4 or 0-for-5 (on power play). I think our power play has shown signs of getting chances. You hope eventually you’re going to work your way out of it. I think we’ve been like 3-for-50 or 45 over the last 10 games. The record says we play good at home and bad on the road, but I think … we scored with five seconds left to go to beat Nashville at home and we seem to find ways to lose on the road,” Holland added. “These last few games it would have been nice to get some road wins. We need to figure out ways to win games on the road.”
The Free Press’s Helene St. James also offers some “looking on the bright side” notes from Saturday’s game:
Nashville goaltender Pekka Rinne got his league-leading 38th win of the season in Saturday’s 3-2 victory over the Wings. The best of his 35 saves came on a second-period Detroit power play when he robbed Henrik Zetterberg’s shot from the left circle with a quick glove hand. “He’s one of the best in the league,” Wings defenseman Ian White said. “He made some big saves at key times. If a couple of those goals go in at different times, it is a different game.” ...
There was some good news on the injury/illness front Saturday. Justin Abdelkader returned after missing one game with a flu-like illness. He scored his eighth goal of the season late in the third. Abdelkader struggled in the face-off circle, winning only three of 13 draws.
I made that Sherpa simile for a reason—in addition to being a twitchy bunch because we’re mostly from Detroit and how bad our spiritual or sporting home’s reputation is, we Wings fans are a moody, worrisome group because we understand that the Wings are basically walking on a knife’s edge as perhaps the one Detroit business that’s experienced nothing less than regular-season success and deep drives into the playoffs for the vast majority of the past 20 years, and we’re aware of the Wings’ precipitous and precarious position. It doesn’t seem to bother the Wings’ players, coaches or management one bit, and maybe that’s a good thing.
As noted on Sunday evening, Holland doesn’t believe that the NHL’s GM’s should reintroduce the red line for the sake of player safety or pushing the trap back, but he did tell the Globe and Mail’s James Mirtle that he wouldn’t mind seeing a couple of lines behind the goal crease disappear:
The trapezoid, which prevents goaltenders from going into the corner to play the puck, is being regarded as a mistake by some GMs, because defencemen are left more vulnerable to big hits in their own zone.
“I’d prefer to see it out,” Detroit GM Ken Holland said. “I think if you’ve got a goalie that can go out and handle the puck and he’s got an advantage, let him go.”
The Florida Panthers’ Dale Tallon, among others, wants to discuss reinstalling the red line and two-line pass infractions as measures to counter player speed in the neutral zone. This topic is sure to stir up a spirited debate, as opinion appears to be split. Holland said restoration of the red line would be going too far. He and other general managers warn against making too many changes in response to the concussion issue.
“We’ve got the best coaches and the best players in the world, and whatever you do, they seem to adjust,” Holland said. “Everybody thought taking the red line out [in 2005] was the best invention since sliced bread. Now we’re having debates to change it again. Now we want to slow the game down, obviously because we’re concerned about injuries. ... We’re never going to come up with a rules package and a league with no injuries. If you do, it’s going to be flag football. There’s going to be no hitting.”
Put bluntly, however, we shouldn’t expect anything to happen in Boca Raton other than spirited rounds of golf.
In the AHL and ECHL: Gustav Nyquist came in quite handy for the Grand Rapids Griffins before leaving Houston for Los Angeles. Nyquist registered the game-tying goal in what would become the Griffins’ 5-1 victory over the Houston Aeros. Ty Conklin snapped a three-game losing streak by stopping 23 of 25 shots, but the Griffins still essentially have to win their remaining games and get some help if they are to make the playoffs.
• In the ECHL, however, the Toledo Walleye continue to struggle. The Walleye dropped a 5-0 decision to the Wheeling Nailers on Sunday, and the only Wings’ prospects on the Walleye’s roster in Andrej Nestrasil and Nick Oslund are essentially playing out the string.
If you happened to have picked up a ticket to attend Fan Day at the Joe at one of the Wings’ player signings at local Meijer locations over the past two months, you may have attended the event at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, and if not, DetroitRedWings.com’s Zack Crawford provides a recap:
With the Red Wings on the road, Joe Louis Arena was open to fans on Sunday afternoon for the second annual Fan Day. In partnership with Coca-Cola and Meijer, the Wings opened the doors to The Joe for fans who had claimed free entry tickets at local Meijer player visits held throughout the season.
Featuring an open skate, autograph opportunities with Wings alumni and photo opportunities with the Zamboni and the 2008 Stanley Cup championship banner, Fan Day offered visitors a unique interaction with the Wings legacy, both past and present.
For five hours, fans had access to the main concourse of the arena, where interactive hockey zones, giveaways and promotions lined the concession areas. A constant line of people waiting for autographs kept the featured alumni, including Darren Banks, Brent Fedyk, Dennis Hextall, Eddie Mio, John Ogrodnick and Nick Libett, busy throughout the day.
The Hockey Hall of Fame was also in attendance with a wide variety of Wings’ hockey memorabilia, including trophies, game-used jerseys, gloves and pucks. In addition, four of the league’s premier trophies, the Presidents’ Trophy, Frank J Selke Trophy, James Norris Memorial Trophy and Hart Memorial Trophy were on display and accessible for photographs.
On the lower concourse, fans took photos with the Zamboni while waiting for their turn to join the open skate on ice that was resurfaced by the ice crew multiple times during the event.
In the prospect department, RedWingsCentral’s Matthew Wuest penned a top 20 list of Red Wings prospects about a month ago, and this morning, Hockey’s Future’s Brandon Peleshok has cobbled together a top 20 list of his own.
4. Tomas Jurco, RW: At 6’2, 193lbs, Tomas Jurco already possesses the size to be an effective player at the NHL level. The 19-year-old Slovak native has some of the best hands in junior hockey, exhibiting high-end goal scoring and playmaking ability. While he was lost in the shuffle last season amidst other offensively gifted Sea Dogs’ players, Jurco is now an integral part of the team’s output.
Jurco is having a career year with the Saint John Sea Dogs, scoring 68 points through 47 games with the team. In addition, he is playing in more high traffic areas, and showing that he can withstand the physical rigors of the game. At his current rate of development, Jurco could find himself at the top of the prospect list in the following years.
7. Xavier Ouellet, D: If Xavier Ouellet continues to progress the way he has, the Red Wings could have a very solid offensive defender on their hands. His elite skating ability has allowed him to lead all Blainville-Boisbriand Armada defensemen in scoring, while increasing his physical play and improving his defensive positioning in the process. He has also worked to size to his frame, weighing in at 6’0, 185lbs.
Captaining the Armada, Ouellet has managed to put up points at a near point-per-game pace. In 61 games with the team, he has potted 21 goals and 37 assists for 58 points. If he can continue his torrid scoring pace and strong all-around play, the 18-year-old stands an outside chance at joining a very stacked defense corps on Canada’s 2012-13 WJC-20 team.
11. Nick Jensen, D: Leaping his way onto the Top 20 list, the previously unranked Nick Jensen makes one of the biggest jumps of all Red Wings’ prospects. Jensen possesses all the skill to project as a top four defender, relying mostly on his offensive game to make an impact on the ice. He has high-end skating ability, coupled with great offensive instincts and a solid first pass.
In his second season with St. Cloud State, the 21-year-old blue-liner has put up six goals and 26 assists for 32 points in 38 games. At 6’1, 195lbs, Jensen also has the size to compete at the NHL level, and will look to shore up his physical and defensive game to become a more complete player.
15. Marek Tvrdon, LW: Making his first appearance on the Top 20 list is 6’2, 212lbs winger Marek Tvrdon. With all the tools of a future power forward, he has shown himself capable of scoring important goals and playing a physical game. Drafting Tvrdon has proven to be a risk worth taking for the Red Wings, as the 19-year-old winger has put up 27 goals and 39 assists for 66 points through 57 games. The Vancouver Giants forward has scoring line potential, and could see his stock rise considerably if he can put together another impressive year during the 2012-13 season.
Also of Red Wings-related note this morning: DetroitRedWings.com’s Zack Crawford talked to long time Maple Leaf Wendell Clark about playing against and for the Red Wings (for all of 12 games) as part of the team’s “Dual Citizenship” series;
• I am simply going to offer a “no comment” regarding this clip from WXYZ, showing some of the highlights from the Joey MacDoanld/Jimmy Howard signing at Hockeytown Authentics last Wednesday;
• And NHL.com is asking fans to vote as to whether Red Wings forward Pavel Datsyuk’s first Datsyukian deke...
Was matched or exceeded by Claude Giroux’s admitted imitation:
Of personal note: First, I need to let you know that I will be out of the office today, possibly for some of the Wings’ post-practice media availability in LA, as the mom has a six-month skin cancer check-up with her dermatologist today, and the appointment’s going to cut into the afternoon/evening rush hour on 696 and 96 West, so between the fact that her dermatologist hacks something “suspicious” off or cauterizes something every time she goes in (he’s very conservative and she’s the classically white sheet-pale, freckled redhead who got too much sun as a youngster and adult), I’m probably going to be gone from 2:30 till 6 EST, and I’m not making apologies for that. Ditto for an appointment that will take me out of the office from 11 AM to 2-ish on Thursday to take the mom to another appointment in Sterling Heights, an appointment that takes me so far away from southwestern Oakland County and South Lyon that it’s a 95-mile round trip. The latter will be particularly fun given that the Wings-Ducks recap will probably take me till 6 or 7 in the morning on Thursday.
Second, I’m not going to get into the TMI on TMR nuts and bolts as I’ve learned that there’s still a bit of a stigma about relatively sane people with chronic mental illnesses talking about the nuts and bolts of living with them, but I apologized yesterday for the lack of going-to-a-Wings-or-Griffins game coverage or interviews with management or prospects. I wish I could do more, but as is, my physical health has remained somewhat challenging throughout the season, even since my return, and dealing with my neurochemistry as it manifests itself in daily life has been very difficult as well. I feel pretty maxed out just trying to maintain the blog this season, and while I want to become more than a content reflector, for the present moment, I’m not happy with the level of coverage I’m delivering as opposed to what I could be giving you, but I’m doing the best that I can and the most that I possibly can for now.
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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.