The Malik Report
by George Malik on 04/05/11 at 02:07 PM ET
Updated 3x at 2:10 with bad news about Osgood, and by the way, Craig Custance says the Wings aren’t interested in Michael Leighton: The Detroit Red Wings took to the ice for a slightly early practice before hopping on Red Bird II for a mid-afternoon flight to Raleigh, and Wings coach Mike Babcock (who will appear on NHL Live around 1:20 PM EDT Today) didn’t offer any good news on the injury front, as noted by the Wings’ Twitter account:
According to Mike Babcock, Kronwall will be unavailable tomorrow in Carolina.
Otherwise, Babcock didn’t exactly offer any ground-breaking news…
Babcock suggested he may toy with some line combos over the next few days.
Here’s Babcock’s off-day presser:
Also from practice, via the Wings’ Twitter account:
Lidstrom: This is probably the tightest race I have seen for playoff spots. I think it is going to come down to that last game for teams.
Holmstrom: We know they (Carolina) need a win, but we also know that we need to head into the playoffs playing our best hockey.
Abdelkader: I think there are two or three teams we think we might play, but it changes every day.
MLive’s Ansar Khan spoke to GM Ken Holland about Niklas Kronwall and Chris Osgood’s respective statuses this morning….
“We’re optimistic [Kronwall will] play before the end of the season,” Holland said. “It’s nothing significant.”
And regarding Osgood, who comes off the LTIR on April 8th…
“Let’s see what’s going on (with the playoff races),” Holland said. “He’s got to practice full-out this week to play this weekend. We’d like to get him a game, or half a game.”
The thrust of Khan’s article, however, involves the fact that the Wings have no idea who they’re going to play in the first round, and as such, before Khan breaks down each and every one of the possible match-ups, he duly notes that the Wings’ pro scouts are earning oodles of fequent flyer miles:
[By] Sunday the] Red Wings will have videotape of all their possible opponents, the games they played against those teams and the games those clubs will play this week They also will have detailed reports from their four pro scouts—Mark Howe, Glenn Merkosky, Bruce Haralson and Kirk Maltby— each of whom is following a pair of teams. The Red Wings have somebody at every game involving a club they might face in the opening round.
“They’re in the cities, they’re around the teams, they pick up stuff,” general manager Ken Holland said. “They live on the road.”
Holland offered this suggestion as to whether the Wings are concerned about finishing 2nd in the Western Conference…
“We would like to finish second, but if we finish third, we finish third,” Holland said. “The big thing is that we play well these last three games. We’re going to keep our forward rotation going (Mike Modano and Kris Draper will play Wednesday after being scratched on Sunday), keep everybody fresh, keep everybody going. We’re pushing to win, but we’re not going to overtax anybody.”
And he stated the obvious about the fact that there really isn’t a “favorable” first-round opponent, period:
“I don’t know if there’s anybody not playing well in the West,” Holland said. “This year, more than ever, because of parity, most series are going to be pick ‘ems, flip a coin. There’s so little to choose between the teams. I expect a lot of six-, seven-game series. A lot of overtimes.”
• In, “Thank Goodness” news, the Hockey News’s Ryan Dixon reports that THN’s panel has chosen to give Nicklas Lidstrom the nod as their Norris Trophy winner...
We’re not giving this year’s Norris Trophy to Nicklas Lidstrom as a lifetime achievement award. But if we were handing out figurative hardware based on the past couple decades’ worth of hockey, here’s a pretty compelling case why Lidstrom should top a few lists, courtesy Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland.
“He’s the best defenseman of his era and I think he’s the most valuable player of his era and any time you have a dominant defenseman you have a leg up on a lot of teams.”
The Red Wings have now made the playoffs for 20 straight seasons, a streak that began in 1990-91. Lidstrom joined the team one year later. No. 5 didn’t win his first of six Norris Trophies until age 31 and, even with the effusive praise he gets now, in some ways you wonder if his value still isn’t fully appreciated by those who don’t watch him often.
The nature of sports and sports viewing is such that conversations like, “Hey, did you see Lidstrom’s gap control on Patrick Kane last night?” tend to be buried under ones that take on the tone of “Do you think Shea Weber could cripple an elephant with his slapshot?” When it comes to nicknames, ‘Nick the Stick’ doesn’t quite have the same highlight-friendly ring as ‘Lidstrom the Lopper.’
Point is, Lidstrom continues to do every little thing right, while still placing among the top-scoring defensemen in the league. True, he plays fewer minutes per game now than he used to and could finish the season as a minus player, but the bottom line is if you polled 30 NHL coaches, an overwhelming majority would want Lidstrom as one of their two blueliners for the last minute of a game, regardless of the circumstance. That’s saying something, considering the swath of great young defensemen who now populate the league. The fact Lidstrom has to be so good to stay ahead of all the up-and-coming stars (and let’s give some love to 34-year-old Lubomir Visnovsky, too) is why winning a seventh Norris at age 41 this June would be a little extra special.
• And while I’m trying to get this update out fast (there are already updates in the pipeline), I would be remiss without pointing you to Winging it in Motown’s FANTASTIC Red Wings as the characters of Monty Python parody, as penned by JJ From Kansas and illustrated by super-babe and super-talent Stevie Roxelle. It’s nothing less than worth an Ecky, Ecky, Ecky, Ptang, Zoom Boing (that’s what my Knights Who Say Ni t-shirt says).
Update the first In the multimedia department, the Detroit Red Wings’ “Twenty Straight” website recalls the Wings’ sweep of the Anaheim Ducks in 2009;
• The Oakland Press’s Pat Caputo and Wings play-by-play man Ken Kal talked about the Wings’ stumble against St. Louis and rebound on 97.1 the Ticket:
• Kal also spoke to WBBL’s “Bakita and Grey today:
• Patrick Eaves is about a third of the way to raising $5,000 to benefit the Michigan Humane Society, and the MHS posted a video of Eaves and his gigantic, gigantic “puppy,” Reuben, promoting the Humane Society’s “Out of the Doghouse” campaign:
• Shifting back to more traditional stuff, WXYT/97.1 posted a Red Wings “Roster Report”...
–LW Johan Franzen’s third-period goal was insignificant to the outcome of the game. But it could be a boost confidence boost for the struggling power forward. It was just Franzen’s second goal in his last 24 games, since his five-goal outburst at Ottawa on Feb. 2. Franzen has a history of stepping up in the playoffs, so the Wings aren’t overly concerned with his slump.
–C Darren Helm scored his 12th goal, establishing a career-high. Helm has been more dangerous offensively this season, as he’s learned to bury some of the many scoring chances he creates with his speed. But his main focus continues to be defense, penalty-killing and forechecking.
–G Jimmy Howard has looked sharp in two games since returning from a sprained left shoulder. He has stopped 57 of 63 shots and made some big saves in the third period with the game on the line each of the last two days. Howard is hoping to head into the playoffs with a consistent stretch after an up-and-down season.
–G Chris Osgood (surgery on Jan. 11 for a sports hernia) is on long-term injured reserve. He is eligible to return on April 8.
–D Niklas Kronwall has missed two games with an upper-body injury and is listed as day-to-day.
• NHL.com’s Adam Kimelman penned a story based upon Ken Holland and Nicklas Lidstrom’s conference call comments:
“Having been with such a good organization for 20 years, and being part of a winning tradition here, you almost take it for granted,” Lidstrom said. “I think last season was the first time where we really had to battle. We were on the bubble pretty much the whole season up until after the Olympic break.”
After the break, the Red Wings played to a level hockey fans have become accustomed to over the last two decades—they went 16-3-2 to finish fifth in the West with 102 points, 10 behind Chicago. They won a dramatic seventh game in Phoenix in the first round, but lost in five games in the conference semifinals to the San Jose Sharks. The experience of fighting and clawing over those final 21 games just to make the playoffs taught Lidstrom something—that making the playoffs really isn’t all that easy. For the first time, he said, he learned to really appreciate making the postseason.
“Yeah, I think I do (appreciate it more now),” he said. “I think I know that especially with the parity in the League the way it is now, it’s so close. Looking at the races in both conferences, it’s such a close race where it might come down to the last game Sunday who is going to make the playoffs or not. It’s such a hard League to win in nowadays … so I think that makes you appreciate it even more.”
To show that appreciation, he’s going to keep going full bore, the same as he has all season, for the Wings’ final three games. For one thing, there’s that second seed still up for grabs. Also, he believes it’s important to enter the postseason on a good streak.
“I think that can carry you into the playoffs, if you’re playing well down the stretch in the last week of the regular season,” he said. “And I think it’s hard to just kind of sit and wait for the playoffs and then all of a sudden you’re supposed to turn it on and play your best. I think you can carry that momentum into the playoffs and that’s something we have talked about as a team, to play well and really pay attention to details in our games, whether it’s special teams or defensive-zone play, little things like that. I think you need to be on top of it, and so I think it’s important to play well heading into the playoffs.”
• No surprise here: ESPN fantasy hockey writer Tim Kavanagh picks on Jimmy Howard for having a difficult sophomore campaign (though he still remains among the league’s leaders in wins):
Three Steps Back
13. Jimmy Howard, Detroit Red Wings: After filling all three of the standard categories with fantasy goodness as a rookie in 2009-10, Howard became a one-category specialist in 2010-11, and it’s the category that has more to do with a goaltender’s team than the others: wins. Howard obviously has value as one of the league leaders in this realm, but an increase in goals-against average by 0.50, and a drop in save percentage by .015 did not inspire any of his fantasy owners to bake him a cake. So should we expect the 2009-10 all-around stud or the 2010-11 specialist next season? There’s too much uncertainty to rank him amongst the elite (as he was on nearly every preseason list last fall). But you know what that means: he could wind up as one of next year’s draft-day steals if he returns to his form from a season ago.
• And here are practice updates from the Free Press’s Helene St. James, who reports that Kronwall does not have a shoulder injury (at this point, who the hell knows what’s bugging him?)...
The only player who’ll miss the game because of an injury is defenseman Niklas Kronwall, who is day-to-day with an upper body problem. Kronwall, who didn’t practice today, will miss a third straight game. Teams usually don’tdisclose much about injuries this close to the playoffs, but general manager Ken Holland told the Free Press it’s not a shoulder injury that’s sidelining Kronwall.
Kronwall’s absence means Ruslan Salei and Jakub Kindl both get to further audition for the sixth spot on defense. The stronger competition is up front, where the Wings, if healthy, will have two forwards out every game.
The bottom line, as Babcock likes to put it, is that he wants his best players to play the most.
“We’re at the time of year that your best players normally really step up here,” he said today. “The guys with the most skill gotta be the best players. When I look around the league, I think, in the West right now, I think San Jose is playing the best. To me, they’re hitting on all cylinders right now. Vancouver has, no question, been the best team, and there’s a number of great teams … but just because you’re hitting on all cylinders this week doesn’t mean you are next week. That first game of the playoffs can determine a lot.
“Our focus is to continue to work on the details, to make sure every guy on our team understands that, to have success, it doesn’t matter how many minutes you play, it doesn’t matter who you play with, all that matters is simply about the Red Wings. That’s it. So just find a way to win. That’s our whole focus right now. Get healthy, and get feeling the best you possibly can. That’s what we’re trying to do.”
And MLive’s Ansar Khan, who both updated Kronwall’s status and Babcock’s decision to put his lines back into the blender...
Detroit Red Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall did not practice today and will miss his third game in a row Wednesday at Carolina (7 p.m., FSD) due to an upper-body injury. He has been bothered by a sore shoulder. Here are the lines they skated with today:
Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Cleary (Hudler working in)
Draper-Helm-Eaves (Miller working in)
Osgood (on injured reserve)
Coach Mike Babcock indicated he’ll use various combinations in the final three games of the regular season.
“It doesn’t matter how many minutes you play, who you play with,’’ Babcock said. “All that matters is about the Red Wings. Just find a way to win. That’s out whole focus right now. So over the next three games you might see some different combinations. I’m trying to get in my mind what would be our lineup in Day 1 of the playoffs.’‘
As well as quite the speech from Babcock about The Wings’ youthful players:
“Those young kids in particular, they’ve had great personal growth, therefore our team gets better because of that, which is a real positive thing and ideally we’ll continue to do it and yet we’re at the time of year your best players normally really step up and we need them,’’ Babcock said. “The guys with the most skill got to be the best players.’‘
The Red Wings visit Carolina on Wednesday and finish with two games vs. Chicago, Friday at home and Sunday on the road (12:30 p.m.). Detroit is battling San Jose for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference. The Sharks lead by one point. They visit Anaheim on Wednesday and close with a pair of games against Phoenix, Friday on the road and Saturday at home.
“When I look around the league, I think in the West right now San Jose is playing the best,’’ Babcock said. “They’re hitting on all cylinders right now. Vancouver, no question, has been the best team and there’s a number of great teams.’‘
Then he added, “Just because you’re hitting on all cylinders this week doesn’t mean you are next week. That first game in the playoffs can determine a lot. So our focus is to continue to work on the details, to make sure every guy on our team understands that to have success … it doesn’t matter how many minutes you play, who you play with. All that matters is about the Red Wings. Just find a way to win. That’s our whole focus right now.’‘
As for not likely knowing their first-round playoff opponent until after the final game, Babcock said, “I think it’s real good because it’s so wide open you can’t even predict … be careful what you wish for. So we’re not wishing for anything, except being healthy and getting in and getting started. We’re fortunate we’re going to get started at home and go from there.’‘
Update #2: Rut roh, per the Detroit News’s Tim Twentyman. Chris Osgood has no clue as to whether he’s going to be ready for the playoffs:
“The most frustrating thing is just not physically being able to compete at the level you need to play at in this league,” he said after Tuesday’s practice. “Mentally and shape-wise I’m ready to play, but I just can’t do the things I need to do, and that’s the most frustrating thing.”
The Wings were hoping to get Osgood off the injured list this Friday, but he didn’t sound so optimistic Tuesday.
“I’m hoping, but I really don’t know,” he said when asked about Friday. “Some days I feel good and some days I don’t. It’s just being able to do the things I need to be able to play, and if I can’t, then I won’t. You can break a bone and do certain things and you’re back in a couple weeks. This is a lot different where physically, you can’t play, and you don’t know if you will be able to. The unknown is frustrating, worrisome and disappointing all at the same time.”
Osgood became just the 10th goalie in NHL history to record 400 wins this season and is 5-3-2 with a 2.77 goals-against average on the year. Osgood has played in 129 career playoff games with a 2.09 GAA.
“I miss playing and miss being on the ice,” he said. “The frustrating part is not being able to do what you want to do. You get close and it doesn’t work. It becomes worrisome because you don’t know if you can come back and play again. There are a lot of things that go through your head. I feel like I’m closer, but not where I need to be to be playing games. I’d say we’re on the right track, though.”
• In more positive news, from my pal Courtney, the details of this weekend’s “Hockey Fest” to raise funds for the Ted Lindsay Foundation for Autism at Kroger in Southgate have been revealed:
Kroger, at 13333 Eureka Road in Southgate, will hold a “hockey fest” to benefit the Ted Lindsay Foundation and families affected by autism.
Lindsay is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. He is among former Detroit Red Wings scheduled to appear.
Admission is free to the event for the April 9 event, held 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Skills tests include face-offs, being a goalie trying to stop a foam puck and taking the fastest shot as measured by radar. There also will be games in mini-rinks and a “legends of hockey” exhibit.
The event is sponsored by Kroger, the Red Wings and WMGC-FM (105.1).
Call the store at 1-734-324-7960 for more information.
Update the third: From The Windsor Star’s Bob Duff:
Nicklas Lidstrom joined the Detroit Red Wings for the 1991-92 National Hockey League season, one year into the club’s incredible 20-year of playoff appearances which will continue this spring and while for teams, playing for the Stanley Cup is only a dream, for Lidstrom, the Wings captain, it’s been an annual ritual. “Sometimes I think about it, but having been with such a good organization for 20 years, and being part of a winning tradition here, you almost take it for granted, “Lidstrom said.
He admitted that the 2009-10 season, when Detroit struggled to maintain a playoff spot, ultimately finishing fifth in the Western Conference, was a bit of a wake-up call. “I think last season was the first time where we really had to battle,” Lidstrom said. “We were on the bubble pretty much the whole season up until after the Olympic break. So I think last year was the hardest one where we really had to focus and get some wins and had our backs up against the wall for pretty much the whole season.It’s always been fun going into the playoffs. People are always waiting for April to come around, for the playoffs to come around. But last season I think was the toughest one, where we made it the last 20 games of the season.”
Since the salary cap was put in place in 2005, Lidstrom admits that he finds the challenge of battling for a playoff spot to be more demanding than in the pre-lockout years. “With the parity in the league the way it is now, it’s so close,” Lidstrom said. “Looking at the races in both conferences, it’s such a close race where it might come down to the last game Sunday as to who is going to make the playoffs or not. It’s such a hard league to win in nowadays.”
Update the fourth: Daniel Larsson told Marie Hallman that he’s still planning on playing for Team Sweden during the World Championships if the team will have him;
• And the Wings’ website posted its in-house checking montage:
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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.