The Malik Report
by George Malik on 01/23/12 at 12:08 AM ET
The Detroit Red Wings received a welcome break from hockey after their 3-2 shootout win over the Columbus Blue Jackets, but on Monday, the Wings get back to work wrapping up their 11-games-in-19-nights stretch with a home game against St. Louis on Monday (7:30 PM EST/FSD Plus/WXYT) and a road game against the Canadiens on Wednesday.
The Canadiens, who sit in 11th place in the Eastern Conference, open practice/skills competition on Sunday, but any of their nagging injury concerns aren’t pressing as the Candiens won’t play until they host the Wings, having defeated Toronto 3-1 on Saturday night.
The Wings’ more immediate concern involves playing much better than they have over the vast majority of January (see: of their eight wins, six have come via overtime or shootouts) when the Blues come to town after having defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-2 on Saturday. The Blues sit one point behind the Wings in the Central Division standards, and they’ve got a game in hand on the Wings, so it comes as little surprise that the Blues told NHL.com’s Louie Korac that snapping the Wings’ 16-game home ice winning streak would serve as yet another exclamation point on a remarkably resurgent season and what Korac notes is a two-and-a-half month surge under new coach Ken Hitchcock, who’s got the Blues playing up to their potential all of seventy-four days after the team fired coach Davis Payne:
“I thought it was going to take a while,” [T.J.] Oshie said. “We’ve always known we’ve got the guys in the locker room to do big things here. We’ve just now put it together as a whole. All the way through the lineup, guys are playing great.”
Blues veteran Scott Nichol said earlier this season that this Blues team has superstar players on it. They just don’t realize that they’re there yet, guys like Oshie, David Perron, David Backes, Patrik Berglund, Alex Pietrangelo, among others. Maybe they’re starting to get the idea.
“We’ve got guys that have been in the League three or four years that are core players, and they’re great players,” Nichol said. “Playing against them, you know they’re great players. They’re good players, but I don’t think they know they’re great yet. That’s the next gear. That’s where we need to push guys. We’ve got such a great attitude in here. It just seems like we win a game and then we park it the next day, win or lose. For having so much success this year at this stage, we’re not full of ourselves. We’re a pretty humbled bunch and we just keep a workmanlike attitude.”
Which is why Hitchcock—who is 23-5-6 since his arrival—always believed the Blues had this level of play in them, even as a spectator watching from afar.
“I thought that we were able to play at this level,” Hitchcock said. “I saw this level in this team when I watched last year. ... The point totals are good, but when you look at things, jeez we’re going to need these points because to have four teams going like this in the division is ridiculous. To be this hot with four teams, nobody’s disappearing on each other. I talked to the Nashville people today. They think they can win the division the way they’re playing. This is just going to be a battle to the end. Hopefully we keep playing well. I don’t look at the record; I just look at the way we play. I just know if we play well, we’ll get points. It might not come overnight. Has it come a little quicker points-wise? Sure. But the play is what I expected. I expected that the team could play at this level. We still think there’s a whole other gear when we get people back ... hopefully this week.”
The Blues entered Sunday tied in the Central Division with the Blackhawks (64 points), one point behind Detroit and four points in front of Nashville in what has emerged as arguably the best division in hockey. It’s great company to be around and company they hope to be with when April rolls around.
“It’s awesome to see compared to where we were five years ago,” said Perron. “It’s real positive obviously, but I think we’re working towards the next game every time. It’s good to be up there, but the key goal is to be up there at (the end) of the season. We just have to keep going that way.”
The Wings had a bit of a hiccup in the third period of Saturday night’s game thanks to the major penalty assessed to Henrik Zetterberg, who won’t be suspended for his accidental hit on Nikita Nikitin, but Wings coach Mike Babcock readily acknowledged that his team more or less survived what he’d deemed a “scary” game by the skin of their teeth, as he told the Macomb Daily’s Chuck Pleiness:
Detroit’s 3-2 win Saturday was the sixth decision by that score in the last eight games that have all been decided after regulation. The Wings have won all six, four wins have come in a shootout and the other two have been in overtime.
“We think we’re going to win, which is a real nice thing to have,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “But we can play better than we have, no question about it. So we don’t want to get into a rut playing like this, we want to play way better. We can skate better, play at a higher tempo, get more out of guys and make better decisions. In saying all that, it’s a hard league to win in. All you’ve got to do is look around. So we’re always thankful for any win. I never met a bad win.”
Also from Pleiness:
•The Wings are just four wins away from tying the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers for longest home winning streak at 20 games.
• Detroit is 5-0 in shootouts this season. Prior to this season the Wings were 27-33 in the shootout, which was implemented in the 2005-06 season.
• The Wings are 12-0-1 this season at home and 17-5-1 overall when a defenseman scores. Niklas Kronwall and Nicklas Lidstrom scored the lone regulation goals for Detroit, give the blue liners a league-leading 32 goals this season. It was the seventh multi-goal game of the season for the defensemen.
In other news, Left Wing Lock’s Sarah Lindenau took note of Valtteri Filppula’s...Do we call it a breakout season, or a long-awaited one?
Valtteri Filppula is having the kind of season that’s been expected for the past four seasons. Now in his sixth full season with the Detroit Red Wings, the 27 year-old forward is becoming the dynamic offensive player that the Wings coaching staff has long thought he could be. Through 47 games this season, Filppula has 15 goals and 39 points and is just a single point shy of his career best point total of 40 during the 2008-2009.
The Vantaa, Finland native became the first Finnish born player to ever play for the Red Wings back in the 2005-2006 season. He saw four games of NHL action that season before securing a full time roster spot the next season. Filppula has long been known for his sound defensive game and play-making ability. That being said, it’s been frustrating to see his potential but not see it translate in consistent offensive contributions.
This season Filppula is finally be taking the next step offensively and is on pace for a significant offensive breakout. The 6-foot, 195 pound forward has played some of his best games this season along side Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler. The trio have formed a formidable second line for the Wings and helping drive Detroit’s current winning streak.
While Filppula’s contributions have never been fully measured on the box score, this season he’s finally providing the secondary scoring Detroit has expected since signing him to a 5 year $15 million deal back in 2008. While free agency looms large for the two-way forward in 2013, he’s currently focused on helping Detroit win and improving his career offensive numbers.
Via RedWingsFeed, he may never play quite consistently enough to meet Wings fans’ expectations, but he’s no longer sleepwalking through more than a game here or there, and while his stats might be just a tinge shy of heading toward the 40-goal pace we all expect of him, it’s at least safe to say that the late-blooming Franzen might have an even better season or three in front of him at 32 years of age. Independent journalist Greg Eno goes a little further than I would in suggesting that The Mule plays like Phil Esposito, but I would suggest that Franzen could have at least five years of 35-40 goals and 70-plus points in front of him:
Like Esposito four decades ago, Johan Franzen takes a vast majority of his cracks at the net a stick’s length away from it. Franzen is the bull to the goalie’s china shop. He has the finesse of a caveman and the grace of the town drunk. His goals have the beauty only a mother can love. But hockey doesn’t award style points. Like its brethren, hockey is a bottom-line, end-of-the-day sport. Wins are doled out to the team with the most goals, not the most oohs and ahhs. Every team should have a Johan Franzen. Yet not every team does.
It may seem that all Franzen does is throw himself at the net like a blind squirrel in search of a nut, hoping to pick up a few. But Franzen is a strong, powerful forward with a will to match. He is maybe the most purposeful player in the NHL.Especially come playoff time. Since he’s been a regular with the Red Wings (seven seasons), Franzen has been his most lethal when the buds begin appearing on the trees and you can start smelling the charcoal and lighter fluid again. In 83 career playoff games, Franzen has 37 goals—about 10 more than he averages per the same amount of games in the regular season.
An injury reduced him to just eight playoff games and two goals last spring, his effectiveness neutralized by his poor health. It was one major reason why the Red Wings couldn’t advance past the San Jose Sharks and the second round for the second year in a row. Franzen is 6’3”, 225 pounds and doesn’t take no for an answer around the net. He plays like a bulldozer, but in reality he has hands as soft as rose petals. Often, you need to see the replays of his goals to appreciate his dexterity in such close quarters in the crease area.
Franzen has 18 goals this season in 47 games. On that pace, he’ll register about 30 for the year, which would be second to his career-high of 34, set in 2009. Of his 18 tallies thus far, all but a few have been scored while breathing down the goalie’s neck.
Franzen plays on a very intriguing line with center Pavel Datsyuk and right wing Todd Bertuzzi. I say intriguing because few lines in the NHL can match theirs in terms of creativity (Datsyuk), smarts (Bertuzzi) and sheer strength (Franzen).The line is becoming a beast in the league. All three of them are playing some of their best hockey right now. It’s a matchup nightmare for opposing coaches.
Johan Franzen isn’t likely to get a sniff of MVP talk, probably ever in his career. His play isn’t glitzy or glamorous. His goals don’t find their way on any of the ESPN highlight montages. But try playing chunks of games without him and see how the Red Wings fare. Not that I’m suggesting it. Forget Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg et al—how Johan Franzen goes will pretty much determine how the Red Wings go. They are, after all, the only team that can saddle up a mule.
Again, I wouldn’t suggest as much, but he’s pretty damn important.
I guess this shouldn’t come as a surprise: Bruins defenseman Andrew Ference received a 3-game suspension for plowing Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh into the boards on Saturday, yielding a hit-versus-Zetterberg on Nikitin hit comparison from Bruins coach Claude Julien, per the Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa:
“He got kicked out for putting his hand on somebody’s back,” Julien said. “Sometimes guys are going into the boards at a fast speed. Then they’re off-balance. It’s a game on the edge. It just goes to prove that it doesn’t always have to be a dirty play and meant intentionally. [Zdeno Chara] got hit from behind yesterday. If Z was 5-foot-10, he probably would have stayed down on the ice. It’s a lot about what comes out of those kinds of hits, the injuries and everything else, that the league seems to be looking at. You respect what they’re trying to do and you move on.”
In news of future events, while the Grand Rapids Griffins wrapped up their Great Skate on Sunday evening, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel of all places took note of a Wings-related event taking place on another city on the western edge of a Great Lake...
Michigan: “Chilly Fest 2012.” Port Huron is ready to play Saturday and next Sunday. On Saturday at the McMorran Place, 701 McMorran Blvd., visitors can cheer for the junior hockey players taking part in the Silver Stick hockey games. They can also check out the chili cook-off, the ice carving and sculpture and take a horse and carriage ride. If they visit between noon and 2 p.m., they can meet alumni from the Detroit Red wings. Tickets to that event are $25, but the rest of the festivities are free. Next Sunday, along with the hockey games, there will be bed races taking place in downtown Port Huron. See details at www.downtown porthuron.org.
And on news from the other side of the Atlantic, remember how Yahoo Sports’ Dmitry Chesnokov revealed that former Wing Slava Fetisov’s decision to step down from his positions as chairman of the KHL’s Board of Directors and CSKA Moscow’s president/GM despite the fact that Vladimir Putin’s involved in attempting to restore CSKA to its status as a flagship franchise, all during Alex Medvedev’s “State of the KHL” address, at its All-Star Game? It turns out that it had nothing to do with Fetisov’s duties as a member of the upper house of Russian parliament, as IIHF.com’s Andy Potts reports:
he news came amid the glitz and glamour of the KHL’s All-Star Game in Riga, and just hours after Fetisov had captained a veterans side to victory in the warm-up event in the Latvian capital. Speaking at a press conference Fetisov, who has served as chairman of the board of directors since the league was formed in 2008, stunned journalists by saying it was time to quit.
“I would like to make a statement – I’m leaving hockey,” he said. “For me, this is my last weekend in hockey. I wish [KHL president] Alexander Medvedev all the best, and I’m sure he will succeed. For me, the situation at CSKA is disgusting. I’ve worked too long to earn a good name, and God knows I’ve done nothing to damage the sport. I see no sense in remaining. I am decided.”
Sitting next to him, Medvedev could say little, and responded: “I cannot comment on this. I can hardly imagine our hockey without Fetisov.”
After that press conference, Fetisov was faced with a barrage of questions and expanded on his reasons for leaving CSKA, web portal championat.ru reported. And he launched a stinging claim of management malpractice at one of the game’s most famous names.
“The whole team, which recently exploited CSKA, was willing to do anything, not just on the hockey side. I’m talking about deals which were done, and which might be done in future,” he told the website. “At one time I was asked to help CSKA and we initiated a letter to the Prime Minister. Now the club is state owned [by Rosneft]. This company needs to strengthen the management because CSKA needs to take care of every ruble – this is taxpayers’ money now. With the current management I do not see any prospect of this happening.”
Fetisov’s announcement in Riga came as a huge surprise, but there were warning signs on the morning of the All-Star press conference. Comments reported by Russian website Sports.ru on Saturday morning hint at a battle behind the scenes at the famous Moscow club, which was recently bought by oil giant Rosneft with plans to see the Army Men dining at the officers’ table once again after years of meagre rations (see this story). Asked why the club had not made greater efforts to strengthen its roster ahead of the Jan. 15 deadline (the return of Nikita Filatov in December was the only significant change as the club looks to confirm a play-off spot), Fetisov attacked the internal politics of the organization, speaking of a “war for money” which had seen the team become a political football among rival factions of the club management.
[A]t a time when the KHL was keen to show off its progress to the world during the All-Star weekend, and with league president Medvedev confidently announcing that he saw no good reason for any Russian player to leave for North America before the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Fetisov concluded his comments with an apparent swipe at the competition he has helped to establish. Asked why there had been no formal announcement, as might have been expected in the NHL, he replied: “In the NHL there are normal structures, where people respect each other. In our league things are very different: at the moment the KHL cannot be compared with the NHL. Not yet.”
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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.