The Malik Report
by George Malik on 12/12/11 at 08:45 PM ET
Updated 4x at 7:10 PM: The Detroit Red Wings boarded Red Bird III to fly to Pittsburgh and begin a brutal stretch of six games over the course of ten nights by playing the hated Pittsburgh Penguins knowing that they would not face off against the NHL’s most famous player dealing with concussion issues, and, as Jimmy Howard told MLive’s Ansar Khan, the Wings would much rather defeat the Penguins with Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal in their lineup:
“You want him playing,’’ Detroit goaltender Jimmy Howard said. “He’s one of the best in the game. He’s great for our sport. It hurts us when he’s not playing. With that being said, they’re still dangerous. (James) Neal is playing real well as is (Evgeni) Malkin.’‘
The Penguins beat the Red Wings twice last season without Crosby, 4-1 in Pittsburgh on Jan. 18 and 5-4 in a shootout in Detroit on March 21. The last time the Red Wings beat Pittsburgh also was the last time they faced Crosby, in a 3-1 win at Joe Louis Arena on March 22, 2010. That’s the game that ended in a scuffle behind the Detroit net. Crosby started slashing Henrik Zetterberg as time expired. Howard too exception and roughed it up with him, giving Crosby quite the face wash.
“That was so two years ago,’’ Howard said, laughing.
Henrik Zetterberg, Nicklas Lidstrom and coach Mike Babcock seconded Howard’s remarks while speaking to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan...
“You want to see him healthy and see him back playing,” said Henrik Zetterberg, who battled against Crosby when the Wings and Penguins faced off in consecutive Stanley Cup Finals (2008-09). “Hopefully he’ll feel better.”
Added Nicklas Lidstrom: “You want the star players to be playing. You want the top players to be playing and promote the league. It’s not good when a top guy is hurt like that.”
The Penguins (17-9-4, 38 points) have persevered without Crosby this season — and when he was out for half of last season. The game is likely to provide a stiff test for the Wings (18-9-1, 37 points), who are below .500 on the road (6-7-0). But without Crosby, a bit of the luster is going to be missing.
“We’d like Sid to be playing; as a league you’d like to see him playing,” coach Mike Babcock said. “You play another team you want their best goalie, their best players, you want to see if you’re any good or not. Saying all that, you want points. What we have to do to get those (points) is what the plan will be.”
Babcock’s not about to underestimate the Penguins, however, as he told the Free Press’s Helene St. James...
“They’ve also got a guy named (Evgeni) Malkin,” Babcock quipped. “He’s pretty good, too.”
“They play hard and do a lot of good things,” Babcock said. “Add it all together, and they’re a real tough opponent.”
And St. James spoke to the Wings about their ugly road trip, 6-and-7 road record included…
“We’ve played fine but not nearly as good as at home,” Babcock said. “Gotta find a way to win battles.”
“You have to play a simple game and be in the right spot,” [Howard] said. “Sometimes, at home, we play really fast, and it seems like we’re always in the right spot.”
“We have to play better on the road,” Lidstrom said. “Nashville’s a division team, and they are trying to move up in the standings, so it will be a tough stretch coming up this week.”
As well as the whole handshake snafu (Lidstrom says it’s not a big deal), Chris Conner’s superb play (you’ll have to read St. James’ conversation with him as I can’t quote the whole article) and the fact that the NHL’s realignment will allow them to play a home-and-home series against Pittsburgh every season, starting next year:
“I still think that when you see two competitive teams and two very even-skilled teams, rivalries are going to come up when you play a team like that,” Lidstrom said.
“You want to have those battles in between certain players and teams, and [Crosby]‘s definitely one of them that you want to go to battle against,” Zetterberg said. “Probably the best player in the league when he’s healthy, and those are the kind of matchups you’ll remember when you’re done playing.”
Via RedWingsFeed, the Windsor Star’s Dave Waddell has a story in the pipeline, but he posted a 5-minute interview with Zetterberg on the Windsor Star’s YouTube channel:
Update: WXYT’s Jeff Riger offers this take on no-Crosby-go-gate…
Speaking for myself, I admit that I am bummed, considering I enjoy watching Crosby play against good competition and I enjoy even more when that competition is Henrik Zetterberg who usually gets into some sort of physical altercation with “The Next One.” Zetterberg admitted that he too likes battling one of the league’s best players saying “that’s what it’s all about, you want to have battles with certain players and he is definitely one of them. He’s probably the best player in the league when he’s healthy and those are the kind of matchup’s that you remember when you retire.” Zetterberg also talk about how bad the league needs Crosby saying “we need him, you saw in those games that he came back and played and the boost that came with it. You want him to be healthy and back playing, we all need him and hopefully he will feel better.”
Zetterberg wasn’t the only one who was bummed that Cosby would not be able to play on Tuesday. Mike Babcock claimed “obviously, we like Sid to be playing, I think as a league you want him to be playing! You want all the good players every night, when you go to play another team you want their best goalie, you want their best players and you want to find out if you’re any good or not.” Babcock, who coached Crosby when Canada won Olympic gold in 2010, praised the young Penguin captain saying “this guy to me is an elite, elite player; he does things the right way. I know him; you are cheering for him when you are not playing him.”
Even though the players and coach wants Crosby to play, I think the fans might feel differently considering they more than likely find it difficult to forget about some of the “bush league” stuff that Crosby pulled in the past against Detroit. The main offense, that Wings fans will never forget is after the Penguins beat the Wings in 09 at the Joe in game 7 to win the Stanley Cup. Crosby failed to shake Nick Lidstrom’s hand after the game. So does Nick still think about that? “It didn’t bother me, that’s in the past, I think he was caught up in the moment and I don’t think it’s a big deal at all” Lidstrom said.
Of course there have been some good memories as well for Detroit versus Crosby, especially winning a Cup in Pittsburgh and also in the regular season when Jimmy Howard face washed him at the Joe a couple years ago when Sid tried to cheap shot Zetterberg late in the game. I asked Howard if he was bummed that he would not get the chance to face wash, Crosby on Tuesday? Howard, being the media savvy guy that he is responded “that was so two years ago” while flashing a huge smile.
So if you are one of these people that are happy that Crosby is not playing, I don’t get you at all? Wouldn’t you rather have a chance to beat the best with all the great memories that come along with it or could it be simply that you are afraid? You tell me! The NHL is a better, more enjoyable product when Sidney Crosby is a part of it! Do you disagree?
As well as interviews with Mike Babcock…
Update #2: Ken Holland, Jim Nill, Jimmy Devellano, Mike and Marian Ilitch and the Wings’ website’s staff are all in Chicago, with the website’s staff will be providing stories and twitter updates throughout the course of Chelios’s induction into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame this evening.
Update #3: Here’s a bit more about the Wings’ desire to improve their road record via Fox Sports Detroit’s Dana Wakiji:
“Why can’t we play with the pace and the tenacity we can at home?” Babcock asked. “We’ve been fine, but we haven’t been near as good. Is that matchups? Is that specialty teams? What is that? We got to find a way to be better.”
Niklas Kronwall said the Wings just need to pick up the pace away from home.
“Quicker in our own zone,” Kronwall said. “A lot of times that’s where it starts. If we can win the pucks a little bit sooner there, make a good first pass, just make sure the puck goes down in the other team’s zone. That way we can stay on their side, stay on top of their D-men a little bit more than we have on the road so far.”
Perhaps special teams is part of the answer. The Wings have the seventh-ranked power play overall, but are just 15th on the road. On the penalty kill, they’re 22nd overall but have actually been better on the road, ranked 11th. Last season it was a reverse trend as the Wings finished 21-14-6 at home and 26-11-4 on the road.
“Whatever it is, we did just the opposite last year, did real well on the road,” captain Nick Lidstrom said. “For whatever reason, we haven’t played as well on the road. Last year we were a very patient team on the road, waited for opportunities. This year we haven’t been able to do that. Specialty teams have been a big part of that, too. Penalty killing hasn’t been as strong on the road. When you let in a goal or two, it’s hard to score goals on the road.”
What Kronwall said. It’s all about moving the puck out of the defensive zone quickly to neutralize the opposition’s forecheck and start pushing the game toward the other end of the ice, and the Wings have done nothing less than plod and putter, trying to send one forward into 5 opposing players in the neutral zone or opposing blueline after two or three d-to-d passes, or attempting drop passes through the neutral zone or as soon as they gain the offensive blueline instead of simply firing the puck up to multiple forwards chugging through the neutral zone with speed and getting the puck in deep and grinding it out…Or plain old utilizing the Wings’ forwards to “trap” in their own regard by pushing opposing forwards back while their puck-moving defensemen skate the puck up ice.
Trap defenses can only be backed off via speedy transition plays, and the Wings have more or less refused to move the puck up ice with any urgency during their road games.
Everybody loves, “Don’t Forget the Stairs, Buddy”: Jiri Hudler’s resurgence has earned him a prime spot in fantasy hockey columns of late. The Hockey News’s Darryl Dobbs has this to say about Hudler’s resurgent play...
Jiri Hudler is finally on a roll and all it took was a sweet job on Henrik Zetterberg’s line just when Big Z hit his stride. After scoring seven points in 17 games, Hudler has 11 in his past 10 and brought himself up to an overall pace that would see him notch 54 points. That would be the second most of his NHL career. Hudler, 27, has been plagued with inconsistency and had a difficult time re-adapting to the league last year after a season in the Kontinental League. Remember last season he had 31 points in his last 43 games, which is a pace similar to his current one.
And ESPN’s Sean Allen at least proffers a good question while talking about Hudler: what exactly happened to Danny Cleary, and why is he mired in an offensive slump (I don’t have an answer to that one)?
Jiri Hudler, Detroit Red Wings: Daniel Cleary was not taking advantage of his opportunity in the Red Wings’ top six, so he was shipped down the depth chart, with Hudler promoted in his place. After a couple games to find his place with Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg as linemates, Hudler has come alive with six points in his past three games. It might be easy to forget that this is the same Hudler who scored 57 points in 2008-09 before joining the KHL for a season. He has the pedigree and the ability to be a scoring threat in this league. Does three games mean he has found his footing? Not necessarily, but don’t think Hudler’s ownership is going to stay at just 12 percent in ESPN leagues for long if he has even one more solid game.
While we’re at it, let’s do the Power Rankings thing: The Wings received passing marks for a “rebound week” in Monday’s crop of four sets of power rankings, starting with those of ESPN’s Scott Burnside...
3 Detroit [record] 18-9-1 Last Week: 3 The Red Wings whipped Winnipeg 7-1 on Saturday to run their home win streak to nine games. They have won nine of 11 and are breathing down Chicago’s neck at the top of the Central Division.
Continuing with the Hockey News’s Adam Proteau...
5 Detroit Red Wings last week] 4 [record] 18-9-1 [last ten] 8-2-0: Scored four goals in two losses early last week, then netted 12 in two follow-up victories
And those of Sportsnet’s Luke Fox...
5 Red Wings [last week] 3: Don’t come to Detroit unless you want to get beat by Detroit. With Saturday’s 7-1 manhandling of the Jets, the Wings have now won their last nine games at Joe Louis Arena. Too bad Pavel Datsyuk and boys hit the road this week.
And concluding with Fox Sports’ Joe Rosen’s rankings:
2 Red Wings [last week 2, highest/lowest] 2/20: The Wings have won nine of 11 and haven’t lost at Joe Louis Arena since Nov. 3, a collection of nine straight home wins.
And the Chris Chelios stories will hit the wires a bit later tonight, but the Wings’ Twitter account has already posted a picture of Chelios holding his U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame plaque, SI’s Stu Hackel pondered the ‘Is Chelios the Best U.S.-born player ever?’ debate, and Yahoo Sports’ Greg “Puck Daddy’ Wyshynski found a pretty spiffy video tribute to Chelios’s career:
Update #4: Here’s Dave Waddell’s article, or at least the non-Crosby-quote-fest part:
“There’s a guy named (Evgeni) Malkin who’s pretty good, too,” Babcock said.“Malklin is a star, he won the Conn Smythe the year they won the Cup. (Jordan) Staal is a real good player. They got lots of good players. They’re a good hockey team. Obviously, we’d like to have Sid in the game because it’s important for the game. He’s an elite, elite player. He does things the right away. You’re cheering for him when you’re not playing.”
However, Crosby isn’t the only wounded Penguin that could miss the contest. Defencemen Kris Letang and Zybynek Michalek are sidelined indefinitely with concussions and Jordan Staal is reportedly out with a lower body injury. Staal didn’t play in Saturday’s game against the New York Islanders and is listed as day-to-day. Still, there’s no doubting the Wings are looking forward to this meeting.
“I think it’s just become one of those teams that you kind of love to play against,” defenceman Niklas Kronwall said. “It’s a great matchup. I think they have a really good team. It’s always good, high-intensity games against them. Even after the two Finals that we played, every time we played them since has been more playoff-type character of the games. It’s always fun.”
It’s also the start of an important and busy stretch for Detroit. The Wings play six games in 10 days before Christmas.Five of those contests are on the road where Detroit is sporting a sickly looking 6-7-0 record.
“You want to head into the holidays on a good note,” Howard said. “A lot of these games are going to be on the road, so we’ll have to play simple hockey. We have to like we play at home. We play real fast. It seems we’re always in the right spots.”
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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.