The Malik Report
by George Malik on 03/15/11 at 09:40 AM ET
While the Red Wings’ return to full strength via the likely returns of Chris Osgood, Brian Rafalski and Patrick Eaves to the lineup on Wednesday or Thursday dominated Monday’s practice reports, the Wings also discussed an obvious undercurrent not related to hits to the head—to some extent, Brian Rafalski’s return will (hopefully) jump-start the Wings’ transition game, as coach Mike Babcock told the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“It just helps all over,” coach Mike Babcock said Monday. “He’s a real good player. I think he’s one of the best defensemen in the league, and if he can be healthy, we’re a way better hockey club. We play faster. I think we’ve been faster anyway, but we play way faster when Rafi is in because the puck gets going so much, so we’d love to have him.”
Rafalski missed the past eight games with back spasms. He wanted to be careful not to aggravate his back, but also play in enough games to get his timing back.
“I know one year, I only had one game before playoffs, I had to come back from injury, and that wasn’t enough,” he said. “But this wasn’t a long-term injury—I was able to skate last week—so it shouldn’t take long to get to top speed.”
With Ruslan Salei in California with his pregnant wife, who is due Wednesday, Rafalski’s return might not bump anyone the next couple of games. Babcock wasn’t sure what his pairings would be, other than keeping Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart together. Babcock hadn’t decided which two forwards would sit out Wednesday.
Rafalski’s return is particularly important given that more than a few Wings are mired in lengthy goal-scoring slumps, as the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan notes:
It sure seems like it’s been a while since Henrik Zetterberg has scored. The last time? Feb. 22 against San Jose. Before that? Feb. 11 in Boston. And on Jan. 10 in Colorado. And here are even more numbers for Zetterberg: No goals the last nine games, and 2 in his last 26.
[T]hat is one of the many reasons the Red Wings are struggling in March, with a 2-4 record that included a 0-4 start.
“If you don’t score, you don’t win games,” he said. “That’s been one of our problems.”
As Kulfan points out, Zetterberg continues to shoot the puck whenever he can as he’s taken a staggering 268 shots this year, but Zetterberg also believes that he’s “squeezing his stick” too much. That might be the case for three other Wings, too:
Since his five-goal outburst against the Senators on Feb. 2, Johan Franzen has scored one goal in 18 games. Todd Bertuzzi hasn’t scored (one point) in 11 games. Valtteri Filppula has scored one goal and has three assists in 12 games.
“The goals-against was a big issue and we’ve been better at that,” Zetterberg said. “Now it’s the goals-for, instead. If we get that going, it’ll be easier to win games.”
Kulfan noted on Monday that the Wings have one more contributor in a scoring slump which Babcock believes is understandable, too:
Mike Modano hasn’t scored since returning Feb. 26 from a lacerated right wrist, an injury that cost Modano three months of playing time. Babcock said Modano might be too hard on himself.
“In his own mind, he wasn’t as good (Saturday),” Babcock said. “Those things are going to happen. But you have to understand, No. 1, you’re 40 (Modano’s age). No. 2, you’ve had three months off. We’re ecstatic with him. You have to cut yourself a break once in a while. He has to do that and keep battling. The fountain of youth is about to kick in here. It does every year come playoff time.”
Nicklas Lidstrom underscored the importance of Rafalski’s return while speaking to the Grand Rapids Press’s Josh Slaghter...
Rafalski’s power-play partner, Nicklas Lidstrom, said: “Having that right-hand shot, you can use him on one-timers or (passing) back and forth on the blue line.”
I certainly believe that Chris Osgood’s return will both allow Jimmy Howard to get a bit of rest before the playoffs begin, bolster Howard’s confidence and give the team a bit of a boost as they now know that they’ve got a 400-game-winning goaltender “waiting in the Wings.” Osgood, like Rafalski, told Slaghter that he believes that he’ll get enough appearances in over the Wings’ last 13 games to prepare for a possible playoff substitution:
“I’m as close as I can get now,” Osgood said. “I feel real good. Just keep practicing hard and be ready. My goal is to be fully ready for the playoffs, where Mike won’t hesitate to use me if he has to.”
Asked how many games he needs to play to get up to speed before the postseason, Osgood said, “Doesn’t matter. My goal is if he needs me in the playoffs I’ll be 100 percent ready, just like I was two years ago.”
Babcock wasn’t going to reveal his plans regarding Osgood’s workload, however…
“Whatever gives us the best chance to win, that’s what we’re going to do,” Babcock said.
And Babcock did admit that the Wings find themselves in a predicament they haven’t had to deal with since November—the team’s collective health means that, at least when Ruslan Salei returns, the Wings will be scratching one defenseman and two forward who’ve proven themselves to be worthy of full-time NHL work this season in Jakub Kindl (who’s pushing Salei for the #6 spot), Eaves, Drew Miller, Kris Draper and/or Justin Abdelkader. Babcock believes that his players will deal with any ruffled feathers professionally…
“You never like to give anybody bad news that they’re not in the lineup, but the great thing about being a Red Wing is it’s never about “me,” it’s about the Red Wings, it’s about winning,” Babcock said. “Does that make those decisions easy? Absolutely not. It’s easy for you to say to a guy, don’t take it personally, and he’s thinking to himself, ‘What do you mean it’s not personal? It’s about me, it’s personal.’ The bottom line is it’s about the team.”
Also of Wings-relate note, part 1: The Red Wings had at least approached University of Maine Black Bears forward Gustav Nyquist to ask him if he’d be willing to sign a professional contract and head to the Grand Rapids Griffins after completing his junior year at Maine, but the Portland Press-Herald’s Rachel Lenzi reports that the Wings have put those discussions on pause thanks to the fact that Maine has at least a slim chance of making the NCAA Division I hockey playoffs:
The University of Maine men’s hockey team could still earn an NCAA tournament bid. But it would take several factors—and a lot of help from other teams across the country—for the Black Bears to return to the NCAAs for the first time since 2007. Maine is 18th in the PairWise Rankings, the system that mimics the method the NCAA committee uses to determine the 16-team tournament field. PairWise prognosticators have mapped out scenarios in which Maine could finish in a three-way tie with Boston University and Colorado College for the final three berths.
“We’d love to have a second chance but we’re not counting on it,” Maine Coach Tim Whitehead said. “We’re not going to have false hopes but it’s a legitimate shot and a mathematical possibility.”
Because of the possibility, the Detroit Red Wings are holding off contract talks with Maine junior Gustav Nyquist until after the weekend.
Nyquist has yet to announce whether he intends to stay at Maine for his senior year or to join the Red Wings. Jim Nill, the Red Wings’ assistant general manager, said Monday that the Red Wings will until next Monday to discuss Nyquist’s future.
• I hate to admit it, but NHL.com’s Brian Compton is right—the Vancouver Canucks are 11 points ahead of the Wings, so it’s highly unlikely that the Wings (who have 13 games left compared to the Canucks’ 11) will catch up with Vancouver to win the Western Conference. As Compton notes, the San Jose Sharks are lurking only 4 points behind the Wings in the Western Conference standings, and the Hawks are starting to sneak into the Wings’ rear view mirrors, too:
Detroit (90 points) was off Monday, but its Central Division lead was trimmed to six points due to Chicago’s victory against San Jose. The Wings will host the Caps on Wednesday at Joe Louis Arena.
• And this merits pre-power rankings note, too: before the Wings attended their annual charity poker tournament at the Motor City Casino on Monday night, the Free Press’s Dave Birkett reports that five members of the team headed up to a gym in West Bloomfield with Detroit Lions defensive end Kyle Vanden Bosch, who’s helping his teammates train for the next NFL season despite the sport’s in-lockout status:
When the workout was done, Vanden Bosch, who organized the session and also serves as the team’s player rep, joined teammates Dominica Raiola, Rob Sims and Stephen Peterman—plus five Red Wings—at Art of Strength in West Bloomfield for another hour of high-intensity core training.
Of Red Wings-related note, part 2: Power Rankings: Here’s the first crop of this week’s power rankings. I hate to agree with TSN’s Scott Cullen, but he’s bang-on in assessing the Wings’ play of late as follows:
This Week 2 Last Week 2 Detroit Red Wings 41-20-8:
Back-to-back wins coming off a four-game winless streak, but still something a little off about a Wings team that has topped 30 shots on goal just once in the last seven games; the first time since early December that they’ve even had back-to-back games with fewer than 30 shots.
Key Injuries: D Brian Rafalski (back).
The one stat that I think is particularly telling is the Wings’ total number of attempted shots per game, including blocked attempts and pucks fired wide, and the Wings have been tossing about half of their shots into opposing players or wide of the net recently, and the total number of attempted shots has dropped down form around 60 per game to 50 or even 40 at times.
As ESPN’s Scott Burnside suggests, the Wings are slowly turning their ship around...
4 ([last week] 4) Red Wings [record] 41-20-8: The Wings have emerged from a recent four-game winless streak with a couple of wins over Edmonton and St. Louis. Pavel Datsyuk is leading the way for Detroit with two goals and two assists in those two wins.
Datsyuk’s performing particularly well of late, as Sportsline’s Wes Goldstein notes…
5 Red Wings [last week] 7: Pavel Datsyuk is averaging a point a game in his past 17 since returning from the IR.
And while Jimmy Howard’s stats aren’t pretty (he has a 2.77 goals-against average and a .908 save percentage in a league where save percentages over 91% have become common), Sportsnet’s Mike Brophy notes that Howard, who leads the league with 33 wins, has gotten the job done during the Wings road-trip-filled second half:
4 Detroit Red Wings [last week] 3: With a new contract in his hip pocket, goaltender Jimmy Howard runs his amazing road record to 17-3-2 with a victory over the Blues Friday.
He’s coming around in terms of form as well. He’s moving through the crease much more smoothly, his rebound control has improved and he simply looks like he’s less herky-jerky, conserving energy and momentum whenever possible.
USA Today’s power rankings also list the Wings 3rd place, but as their rankings are bi-weekly and offer no observations, what I can tell you is that their panel continues to endorse Nicklas Lidstrom as their Norris Trophy pick, with Lidstrom earning 11 first-place votes.
Of Red Wings-related note, part 3—other stuff: In Sweden, it appears less and less likely that Calle Jarnkrok will be able to return from a separated shoulder as Hat Trick Dick Axelsson’s Farjestads BK defeated Brynas IF 2-1 on Monday night, taking a 3-1 series lead. Axelsson didn’t post a point on Monday;
• In the “for the record/appearance” department, the Buffalo News’s John Vogl reports that Dominik Hasek will attend the Willie O’Ree Skills Weekend hockey tournament in Buffalo from Thursday to Sunday, and the Sabres will honor Hasek on Saturday night, when the Sabres host the Atlanta Thrashers;
• And the AHL’s Connecticut Whale have announced that they’ll host Gordie, Mark and Marty Howe in a promotional event on March 26th. Gordie will be signing copies of the Wings-published 9: A Salute to Mr. Hockey, Gordie Howe, and the Whale will raise a banner to the rafters of the XL Center honoring the Howe family, Colleen included.
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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.