Blogs > Red Wings Corner

Up-to-the minute updates and insights from the Red Wings locker room at home and on the road. By Chuck Pleiness of The Macomb Daily.

Monday, March 31, 2008

Fresh as a daisy

Dominik Hasek is back from missing two games with the flu. He has also had a sore back and a hip flexor ... twice ... this season. It all adds up that Hasek will likely finish the season with 40 games played compared with 43 for Chris Osgood.
In that light, coach Mike Babcock's comments about Hasek after Sunday's win are fitting.
"We're real fortunate. He's been freshened right up. He's had as much time off as any goalie's ever had. So now, that suits us perfect."

Locker room humor

Aaron Downey was a healthy scratch last Friday. His ad lib was, "What are we doing, throwing this game?"
Downey throws 10 times more punch lines out than he does punches.

Post practice update

Tomas Holmstrom (abdomen) said that he felt much better today and could return as early as Wednesday although Thursday is more likely. Holmstrom felt positive that he'd be back on the ice for Thursday's home game. Holmstrom said his straight-line skating is the most problematic thing with this injury.
-- Dominik Hasek will start in net Wednesday and Sunday. Chris Osgood will get Thursday's game.
-- Mikael Samuelsson didn't skate and spent his morning on the training table. Coach Mike Babcock said that Samuelsson was feeling better, but there is no date set for his return.
-- Brad Stuart went through the whole practice. He could pass fine. He could a little, but not with any authority. Stuart said that he's expecting to return sometime next week. There's not much that can be done for his broken finger other than taping it.

Stuart practicing

The Monday morning optional practice is going on with a dozen Red Wings on the ice. Among them is defenseman Brad Stuart, who is passing and shooting the puck -- a good sign for a player with a broken finger. Stuart is slated to return for the first round of the playoffs, perhaps even as early as the post-season opener.
Also on the ice is Tomas Holmstrom (abdominal strain). I'll try to get an update on his status after practice.

10th is the 1st?

Nothing's official, but everyone at Joe Louis Arena is talking as though the Red Wings will definitely open the playoffs on Thursday the 10th. That would put the series in line for a Game 2 on Saturday for television.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Saturday notes

-- Mikael Samuelsson (groin) won't play Sunday. Coach Mike Babcock said that Samuelsson might be ready for Wednesday's game in Chicago.
-- Dominik Hasek (flu) will start Sunday's game against Nashville. Jimmy Howard has been sent back to Grand Rapids.
-- Aaron Downey will dress Sunday and Darren McCarty will sit.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Post skate update

-- Dominik Hasek won't play tonight because of the flu. He practiced, but left the ice early. Jimmy Howard will back up Chris Osgood.
-- Tomas Holmstrom (abdominals) had tests yesterday that were negative, meaning good news on his injured midsection. He did not, however, practice with the team today. His return date is unknown. Holmstrom is receiving cortisone shots.
-- Dallas Drake (chest) will return to the lineup tonight.
-- Mikael Samuelsson will not play tonight. he had tests done which showed no significant problems with his groin.

Friday morning skate

Dominik Hasek is on the ice practicing this morning. I'll update after practice.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Post practice update

Yes, Mikael Samuelsson didn't skate in the practice. I should have addressed that with the initial post, but I wanted to find out why.
Sammy has tightness in his groin. Feel free to begin worrying now. They say that they're being cautious, but obviously there's always concern. His status for tomorrow's game is unknown.
-- Dominik Hasek is still a maybe for Friday. He's still sick, but if he skates in the morning, he might dress tomorrow night. Jimmy Howard, incidentally, traveled back to Grand Rapids yesterday morning, got in the morning skate, played last night for the Griffins, got up early this morning and drove across state to make it to JLA for the morning skate.
-- Darren McCarty will play Friday. He skated on a line with Mark Hartigan and Dallas Drake. Aaron Downey will be a healthy scratch.
-- Drake (chest) said that he's fine to play, but coach Mike Babcock said that he still has to talk to the trainers.
-- Valtteri Filppula (groin) has the green light to play Friday. He practiced with the second power-play unit with Dan Cleary and Jiri Hudler on his wings.
-- Brad Stuart (broken finger) is with the team and will resume skating tomorrow.
-- Tomas Holmstrom (abdomen) skated on his own before practice. His return isn't going to come this week.

Thursday's practice

Dominik Hasek is not on the ice for practice today, so it looks as though he'll miss another game with the flu. Jimmy Howard is on the ice and will presumably back up Chris Osgood Friday night.
Darren McCarty is skating and looks good for his debut Friday. Tomas Holmstrom took a quick twirl on the, but didn't participate in practice drills. Valtteri Filppula took part in the entire practice and might be back in the lineup soon.
Here are the line combinations used ...



Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Howard sent down

Looks like Dominik Hasek's feeling better after his bout with the flu. From the Grand Rapids Griffins' award-winning PR dept. ...

The Detroit Red Wings on Wednesday assigned goaltender Jimmy Howard to the Grand Rapids Griffins. He is expected to celebrate his 24th birthday by starting tonight, when the Griffins host the Lake Erie Monsters at 7 p.m. at Van Andel Arena.

The two sides of being a Red Wings fan

As always, the optimist is quite happy right now, wrapped warm in visions of what will be. As always, that makes the pessimist one part angry, one part argumentative. He sees that the optimist is rarely right, not realizing that his own track record is identical to the optimist's.
The pessimist and the optimist have this in common -- they are both fans of the Detroit Red Wings. But there are two distinct sides to Hockeytown and these two gents live on opposite sides of the tracks.
The optimist can't wait for the playoffs to begin in two weeks. Glory awaits. The pessimist wants more time for their team to prepare. There are so many ways to fail.
The pessimist is worried that Dominik Hasek has missed so much time. His back hurt. He now has the flu. There was a hip flexor, whatever that might be. And with just five games left before the playoffs, Hasek may or may not be ready to start in goal Friday.
Put it all together and by the end of the regular season, Chris Osgood will have led Red Wing goalies in games, wins, goals-against average, save percentage and minutes played. And Chris Osgood will be sitting at the end of the bench when the first playoff puck is dropped, mask off talking with equipment manager Paul Boyer while the battle is waged.
The optimist says all of that is a good thing. Surely you didn't expect the elderly Hasek to play 70 games this season. He's rested. He's playing well. And if Hasek isn't ready to go, the Red Wings have the best No. 2 goalie in the NHL in Osgood.
The optimist adds that not only is Hasek going to be back in net soon, but Dan Cleary made his return Tuesday and soon we'll have Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart back and Darren McCarty as well. We're good now. We'll be better then.
The pessimist will have none of that … players rushed back before they're fully healed play like injured players. And those who have been off for weeks need weeks to play at top form again. We don't have weeks. Four losses -- one week's work -- could end it all. Lord, help us. And by the way, all the news about Holmstrom is bad and that is one player you don't want to have watching when the playoff begin.
Even with Holmstrom, the pessimist thinks that the Red Wings aren't a balanced scoring team. Detroit has performed better with Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg on the same line this season, despite every attempt to get a low with the two offensive stars separated. Johan Franzen might be averaging a goal per game over the past 11 contests, but surely you don't think that pace will continue in the playoffs. Then what? Over a seven-game series, any foe can figure a way to slow down a one-line team.
The optimist shakes his head. The pessimist had just answered his own question. The Red Wings do play better with Datsyuk and Zetterberg together. It's not a bad thing to have the best forward line in hockey. No one can stop that line. Add in a goal from Jiri Hudler here and a goal from Dan Cleary there … and yes, Franzen won't score a goal a game, but he will score by golly … and you've got a team with more than enough offense to win. Why does the pessimist always ignore that the Red Wings are the second highest scoring team in the NHL?
The pessimist was waiting to hear that. He likes to predict the seat-of-the-pants arguments that the optimist might make so that he'll have plenty of responses squirreled away. Preparation is essential, even though all is lost.
Second highest scoring team? That was in the regular season. Means nothing in the playoffs. And so will that Presidents' Trophy. Meaningless. No. 1 seed? Meaningless. Home-ice advantage? Meaningless. Two years ago, the top four seeds in the Western Conference lost in the first round to the bottom four seeds, including our Red Wings being bounced by Edmonton. Great regular seasons are a whole lot easier to accomplish than winning four rounds in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
The optimist just smiles.
"True, but we're fans of the best hockey franchise in the world over the past 15 years," says the optimist. "How can you turn that into a bad thing?"
"We'll see what happens," says the pessimist with a wrinkled brow.
"We'll see," says the optimist with a grin.
"Want to go to lunch?"

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tuesday morning skate

Update from St. Louis ...
-- Dallas Drake and Dan Cleary will be back in the lineup tonight. The probable lines are listed below.
-- Darren McCarty (broken ribs) skated through the full practice and is still on course for a possible return Friday.
-- After not practicing yesterday, Valtteri Filppula (groin) made it through the entire morning skate. Coach Mike Babcock said that there's a good possibility the Filppula will be back Friday. Filppula said that it's the type of injury that you have to see the effects that practicing had a day later to fully judge. Filppula is hopeful for Friday, but wasn't as optimistic as Babcock.
-- Tomas Holmstrom did not skate, but is with the team. His abdomen will get more tests tomorrow in Detroit, either an MRI or ultrasound. His return isn't going to come in the next few days.
-- Brad Stuart (broken finger) will rejoin the team tomorrow and start skating.

Tonight's probable lines ...
Osgood (starts)
St. Louis
McClement-R. Johnson-Mayers
Jackman-E. Johnson

Monday, March 24, 2008

Sick bay

A few post-practice quotes about the injury situation:

Coach Mike Babcock on Valtteri Filppula ...
"He was gone (from the ice) at stretch time. I don't think (Friday) is very likely."

Babcock on Tomas Holmstrom ...
"I didn't think he was close today because he left the ice today. He was bitter when he left the ice. That didn't sound very promising for me."

McCarty on his possible return Friday ...
"I don't see why not. It's been good progress the last week."

Monday practice

The Red Wings just ended their Monday practice at Joe Louis Arena and are heading to St. Louis tonight. Dan Cleary had surgery to remove wires from his jaw this morning and remarkably was at practice and made it through every drill. He'll be in the lineup tomorrow night.
Cleary revealed the the front of his jaw is numb and could remain that way for a long, long time. Had he chosen the other procedure -- where his jaw would have been wired shut for six weeks instead of two and he would have missed the rest of the season -- he wouldn't have that numbness. That's a pretty big sacrifice to return to the ice.
Cleary will skate on a line with Johan Franzen and Jiri Hudler. Tomas Kopecky has been moved to the third line with Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby with the fourth line likely being Mark Hartigan, Aaron Downey and Dallas Drake.
Bad news elsewhere on injuries.
Valtteri Filppula (groin) left practice at the beginning and won't play Tuesday. Friday is unlikely for his return as well.
Tomas Holmstrom (abdomen) made it through most of practice, but left early and angry. he's out for tomorrow and might not be back this weekend either.
The only grey sweater (injured player) who made it through practice was Darren McCarty (ribs). Afterwards, McCarty said that he sees no reason why Friday's home game couldn't be his return date.
Dominik Hasek has the flu and missed practice. He won't travel with the team to St. Louis. That means Chris Osgood gets the start tomorrow and Jimmy Howard will be called up as the back-up.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Veterans wisdom

DETROIT -- Fans see the goals. They see the passes and the blocker saves.
But no one who isn't a player sees the things that go into winning hockey games that don't happen on the ice. Those contributions cannot be counted, but for the Detroit Red Wings those contributions can be counted on year after year.
The Red Wings have 50 wins again this season … again meaning that it's the third consecutive year that the franchise has done so. What's special about that is that it hasn't been done since the Scotty Bowman-coached Montreal Canadiens won 50 games four straight seasons (1975-79). This is just the fourth time in NHL history that a franchise has posted three straight 50-win campaigns.
"Kenny (general manager Ken Holland) is a big believer in leadership," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock, who became the first coach in NHL history to win 50 games in each of his first three seasons with a franchise. "He doesn't eliminate the old guys. He keeps them around. To me, that leads to consistency. When I first got here, we had (Steve) Yzerman, now we've got (Nicklas) Lidstrom. But we've got so many more."
When reporters entered the Red Wings' locker room in Columbus' Nationwide Arena after a 4-1 victory two days ago, injured veterans Dallas Drake and Tomas Holmstrom were standing in front of Johan Franzen, ribbing the forward about having scored his 10th goal in 10 games. From across the room, Kirk Maltby yelled for all reporters to hear, "Johan Franzen is right over there. Star of the game. Johan Franzen for interviews."
There is constant riding, joking, teasing and heckling in the Detroit locker room. One daily routine this season is for one player after practice to overly compliment someone sitting near him about his work on the iced that day. "You were flying out there," is said with a sly smile. "You were unbelievable." That leads to another player complimenting another and so on, until it becomes obvious that too much pride in one's effort is something to be laughed at, not applauded.
The banter tone is set by veteran players like Maltby and Kris Draper, Drake and Chris Chelios.
When asked why the Red Wings have been able to string together so many 50-win seasons, Franzen's first response was to point out the franchise's veteran leadership.
"They make you relaxed," said Franzen. "Of course you're going to be a little bit nervous at the beginning (of a career). But they make jokes all the way to the game and it relaxes you. It makes it easy on the young guys. It's a good atmosphere.
"Veteran players teach the young guys what it takes, preparation. The oldest guys on this team will often work out the hardest, set examples for the younger guys every day.
They don't let up any games. They're always prepared."
When veteran Mathieu Schneider broke his wrist in a playoff game in San Jose last spring, he called over teammate Brett Lebda in the locker room. The game was still going on. The din of the crowd noise could be heard in the locker room.
Lebda had been out with an injury of his own, but both knew that he'd be back in the lineup the next game now that Schneider was lost for the rest of the playoffs. Schneider, the veteran, made sure that Lebda, the youngster, knew his value and his role in this situation.
It was the ultimate veteran moment on a team that values veterans as much as any.
The selection of which veterans to keep and which veterans to bring into the fold has been intensified by the salary cap. Mistakes cannot be washed away without still counting against the cap.
The Red Wings' three straight 50-win seasons have come in the three seasons of the salary cap. (The franchise has just two other 50-win seasons to its credit.)
It's easier to get wins in today's game because of the tie-breakers of overtime and shootouts. Every game has a winner whereas 30 years ago, ties were common.
But it's also more difficult to become dominant enough to reach 50 wins than ever before because of the salary cap and expanded talent pool.
"The team has really found a way to find players to still be competitive out there," said Lidstrom. "People thought we were going to slip back after the lockout. We had to buy some players out. We were on an even playing field with other teams. We were still able to win games and play real well. I think it shows a lot to the coaching staff and the players as well."

Helm sent back to GR

With the expected return of forwards Valtteri Filppula, Dan Cleary and Dallas Drake, Tuesday, the Red Wings made some room up front by assigning Darren Helm to Grand Rapids after Saturday's game in Columbus.
Tomas Holmstrom could also return this week.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Tsar Of Takeaways

One stat that doesn't get much attention is takeaways. The Red Wings, however, have the king of takeaways ... the sultan of takeaways ... the crown prince of takeaways? Well maybe that's why the stat doesn't get much attention. No good nicknames.
Pavel Datsyuk led the league last year by a wide margin. This year, he's lapping the competition with an NHL record (stat's been kept for three seasons) 132 takeaways through Friday. Closest is Dallas' Mike Modano with 78.
Datsyuk isn't the only player who's averaging 100 takeaways per season ... he's the only player to reach 100 takeaways in a season.
Through the three years that the takeaway stat has been kept by the NHL, here are the players who have 200 total. I added that Alexander Ovechkin fellow because he's at 199 and the poor guy gets no media attention, so here's a bone for him.

Takeaway Leaders

Past Three Years (through Friday)
1. Pavel Datsyuk, Det, 309
2. Marian Hossa, Pit, 230
3. John Madden, NJ, 214
4. Andrei Markov, Mon, 209
5. Daniel Alfredsson, Ott, 207
6. Mike Modano, Dal, 204
7. Martin St. Louis, TB, 201
8. Alexander Ovechkin, Was, 199

2007-08 (through Friday)
1. Pavel Datsyuk, Det, 132
2. Mike Modano, Dal, 78
3. John Madden, NJ, 73
3. Todd White, Atl, 73
5. Scott Gomez, NYR, 72

1. Pavel Datsyuk, Det, 107
2. Marian Hossa, Atl, 94
3. Martin St. Louis, TB, 83
4. Daymond Langkow, Cal, 81
5. Bobby Holik, Atl, 80

1. Rob Blake, Col, 89
2. John Madden, NJ, 84
3. Sheldon Souray, Mon, 83
4. Andrei Markov, Mon, 81
5. Antti Laaksonen, Col, 80
20. Pavel Datsyuk, Det, 70

Columbus lines

Potential Blue Jacket lines for tonight's game (note no Jared Boll) ...


Post morning skate update

Kris Draper is definitely back in the lineup tonight. He has missed the past five games with a groin injury. Dallas Drake won't play tonight. Coach Mike Babcock said that Drake has a chest injury.
Draper's return might be the trigger of some good news up front for the Red Wings. Dan Cleary is going to have the wires taken out of his jaw Monday and will play Tuesday night in St. Louis.
Babcock said that Valtteri Filppula might also return Tuesday as might Drake.

Saturday morning skate

Kris Draper is centering the third line at the morning skate and Niklas Kronwall is looking fine for those of you worried that he was dinged up Thursday.
Here are the lines they're working with this morning.


Dallas Drake isn't on the ice. I'll update after practice.
Darren McCarty, Tomas Holmstrom and Dan Cleary are all practicing as well.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Stuart has broken finger

So much for that battle among Chris Chelios, Andreas Lilja and Brett Lebda for the third defense pairing. Word out of Nashville this morning (I'm not on this trip) is that Brad Stuart broke his finger in the third period of last night's game and will be out for 3-6 weeks. With the playoffs being 2 1/2 weeks away, that's not good news.
Here's some links to read more ...

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Wednesday's morning skate

Looks like a curveball or two in tonight's lineup for Detroit.
Derek Meech will definitely play forward tonight, according to coach Mike Babcock. Why there's a need for him up front isn't as clear. Aaron Downey will be in the lineup. So will Darren Helm.
That means that one forward who played in Sunday's game in Columbus will be absent tonight, but when asked which forward, Babcock declined to name one. It might be that a veteran will be given a night off to rest a lingering injury.
Meech hasn't played forward in his NHL career. He did spend significant time up front as a 16-year-old with Red Deer in his first year of juniors, including playing forward in the Memorial Cup. That was more about finding ice time for a youngster than thinking that Meech was better suited as a forward than defenseman.
-- Babcock did say that Brett Lebda and Chris Chelios will play tonight, making Andreas Lilja a healthy scratch. Babcock said yesterday that those three will battle for the third defense pairing in the playoffs.
-- Tomas Holmstrom did battle drills at the morning skate and said afterwards that he felt great. What Holmstrom can't do well right now is straight-ahead skating (insert punch line here). His abdominal strain still lingers. Holmstrom had hopes of returning to the lineup Thursday night in Nashville, but that seems out now. Saturday in Columbus would be his earliest return.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Franzenstein terrorizes opposition

DETROIT -- Johan Franzen is not a superstitious man. And that's a good thing because at this moment, Franzen is standing in the crosshairs of superstition.
He is on a scoring streak, a major scoring streak -- something that causes most players to shrug and not tempt the fates by talking about what has happened.
Despite having scored eight goals in the past seven games -- in only one of those games did he not score a goal -- Franzen doesn't mind talking about the secret to his success.
"I know I will get opportunities because of all that ice time and power play (ice time) and playing with Hank (Henrik Zetterberg) and Sammy (Mikael Samuelsson)," said Franzen. "I know I'm going to get opportunities to score."
But how often he'll be able to convert those opportunities into goals … that's something that Franzen will shrug his shoulders about. Who can predict such a thing.
Then again, who could have predicted that Johan Franzen would have put together a goal-scoring streak that no other Red Wing has bettered this season? (Pavel Datsyuk did the same as Franzen with an eight-goal-in-seven-games streak, Nov. 25-Dec. 9. Last year, Zetterberg had a 10-goal-in-seven-games streak, Feb. 7-21.)
"I've never had a streak like this before," said Franzen. "Not since I was young. I'm getting a lot of ice time and playing with good players who keep feeding me the puck."
Throughout the streak, Franzen has been playing on a scoring line with Zetterberg and Samuelsson. During the past five games, Franzen has been on the top power-play unit taking the place of an injured Tomas Holmstrom (abdomen strain) as a net-front fixture.
Franzen's dig-in style earned him the nickname Mule by Steve Yzerman during Franzen's first training camp -- the name that his current teammates most often refer to him by. On Internet bulletin boards, he's known as Franzenstein.
"He's a good player, there's no doubt about that," said Zetterberg. "When he gets the opportunity to play 20 minutes a night and on the power play, he's a big body in front and the puck's just lying there, he's doing a good job."
Franzen, 28, is the ultimate late-bloomer on a team laced with late-bloomers. He wasn't drafted until he was 24, meaning that he was passed over by every NHL team in six entire drafts before the Red Wings selected him 97th overall in 2004.
Franzen didn't reach the NHL until he was 25. His NHL ice time has been like an elevator going up, starting at 12:27 per game as a rookie, then 15:35 as a sophomore, to 17:27 in his third season. His only special-team time at first was on the penalty-kill and now he's on the top power play on the NHL's best team.
"He's been real good around the net," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "Obviously, he's a big, talented kid."
Franzen had good momentum coming into this season, tying for the team lead in goals during the preseason and pacing the Red Wings in shots on goal.
Heading into Wednesday night's game against the Columbus Blue Jackets (7:30 p.m., FSN), Franzen's 20 goals ranks third on the Red Wings behind Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk. He's tied with Holmstrom and Dan Cleary, both of whom are sidelined with injuries.
"You can tell he's playing with a lot of confidence," said Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom of Franzen. "He's getting better and better too. He's getting the chance to play with the top two lines where he'll get offensive chances with Hank or Pavel."

Helm recalled, Draper not ready

It looks right now that Kris Draper (groin) won't be ready to return to the lineup Wednesday. So the team recalled Darren Helm from Grand Rapids after sending him down yesterday.
Chris Osgood will get the start in net tomorrow with Dominik Hasek scheduled to go Thursday in Nashville.

Torquato to make AHL debut

The Red Wings' fourth-round draft pick last summer, Zack Torquato, will make his pro debut tomorrow with Grand Rapids after being called up on an amateur tryout. Torquato, 18, plays for the Erie Otters of the Ontario Hockey League. He was second on the team in scoring (67 points) and third in goals (25) in 66 games played.
Torquato was at training camp with the Red Wings last fall. He played in the 2007 OHL All-Star Classic and for Team Canada at the 2007 under-18 world championships and the 2006 under-18 junior world cup (gold medal).
Torquato is a native of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Every day is Columbus Day

In an effort to draw more fans to the sport of hockey, the NHL is introducing more holidays. Every one loves holidays, right? More holidays must equal more fans.
Monday was St. Patrick's Day. The NHL is making today Columbus Day at least in Detroit with the Blue Jackets in town for a game (7:30 p.m., FSN). And of course the NHL made last Sunday Columbus Day around here by sending the Red Wings to Ohio's capital for a game. And this Saturday will be of course Columbus Day in the Midwest with the Red Wings going once again to Ohio for another game … and the Columbus Day on Apr. 3, that's going to be a good one too.
Oh and let's not forget the three Columbus Days in two weeks back in November -- the nifty prelude to Thanksgiving courtesy of the NHL.
OK, so maybe this schedule isn't the cleverest idea in the history of sports marketing. But for the Red Wings, the multitude of Columbus Days is a wonderful thing.
Detroit was the first team to wrap up a playoff spot. With three weeks left in the regular season, the Red Wings have nine games that serve two purposes -- tune-ups for the playoffs and potential traps for injuries.
For the latter, it matters not who the Red Wings play. Any team can knock out one of your stars.
For the former -- the tune-ups -- the NHL's holiday-laden schedule is a wonderful thing.
All nine of the Red Wings' remaining games are against Central Division teams. That's nine games against Columbus, St. Louis, Nashville and Chicago -- none sitting in playoff position at the moment. You can't line up a much better tune-up schedule than that.
And at no position will these tune-ups be more meaningful that goalie.
Dominik Hasek is the Red Wings' playoff goalie. He was the Red Wings' playoff goalie at the start of the season. And he was the Red Wings' playoff goalie when Chris Osgood was winning every game and being named the all-star starter.
So these last nine games are a ramp for Hasek to get his game in top form.
On Sunday, Hasek's game was below average. He didn't look bad, but four goals on 10 shots isn't going to win any playoff games.
But since Thanksgiving, Hasek has played extremely well. In fact, Sunday's game in Columbus broke a string of 23 straight games in which Hasek allowed three or fewer goals.
With nine games left, Hasek can get six or so starts to feel in top form. Because of nagging injuries, Hasek played in just four of the Red Wings' 15 games leading into Sunday's contest in Columbus. That's not enough work for any goalie to feel sharp.
And despite spending very little on goaltending salaries compared with other teams, the Red Wings are stronger than most in net. Should Hasek go down with an injury, or just plain falter performance wise, Osgood is back to playing well after a mini-slump in mid-February.
The Red Wings are positioned to get good enough goaltending to win the Stanley Cup.
Add to that the news on injuries from Monday and these last nine games could see the Red Wings' championship potential improve. General manager Ken Holland said that Aaron Downey is ready to play Wednesday and that Kris Draper (groin) could possibly return. Tomas Holmstrom (abdomen) and Dan Cleary (broken jaw) are also close to returning. The team sent 21-year-old prospects Darren Helm and Mattias Ritola back to Grand Rapids yesterday anticipating better team health.
So let's celebrate the NHL giving Detroit so many more Columbus Days than the average calendar calls for. It if helps the Red Wings win the Stanley Cup, then the real festivities will begin.

Monday, March 17, 2008

Draper a maybe for Wednesday

The Red Wings sent Mattias Ritola and Darren Helm back to Grand Rapids today. Aaron Downey is ready to return to the lineup if needed. General manager Ken Holland said this afternoon that Kris Draper is a maybe for returning Wednesday from a groin injury. The team will have a better idea on his status after tomorrow's practice. Neither Darren McCarty (ribs) nor Tomas Holmstrom (abdominal strain) are expected to be ready Wednesday.
If there is a forward shortage Wednesday, the Red Wings will recall either or both Ritola or Helm.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Cleary's emergence began in Sweden

Dan Cleary was on top of hockey's mountain this week. The Detroit Red Wings -- hockey's dominant franchise for the past 15 years -- targeted Cleary as a key player to be signed before he became a free agent. After months of work, the two sides agreed to a five-year contract this week worth $14 million.
Cleary had gone from coming to the Red Wings two seasons ago as a tryout to being a multi-millionaire.
The signing this past Tuesday was the culmination of years of work, years of hoping, years of not being in control of professional destiny.
The opposite moment for Cleary was likely three years ago after he finished playing his first season (2003-04) for the Phoenix Coyotes. At the end of the season, what was down Cleary's professional path were the NHL lockout followed by the Coyotes not tendering Cleary a qualifying offer, making him a free agent.
What Cleary did, however, during that span was something that directly led him to becoming an NHL success story. Anticipating the lockout, Cleary packed his bags and went to play in Sweden for one season.
"That year was really a building block for me," said Cleary of his season playing for Mora. "Offensively, it helped me a lot. It was a good stepping stone. That year, I was like 'It's time for me to make an impact in the NHL now.'"
In a season during which many of the NHL's top players skated in Sweden's Elite League, Cleary matured playing in the tiny town of Mora.
The team had been second-division the year before Cleary arrived. When he and his buddy from his days in Edmonton, Shawn Horcoff, arrived in Mora, the team was in its first season in the Elite League.
The town is described by Cleary as a one-stop light place. The team had to renovate its arena to bring its seating capacity up over 4,000.
The Elite League allowed just two North American natives per team, so Cleary and Horcoff -- who stood up in each other's weddings -- had the good idea to commit early to playing in Sweden. After Brendan Morrison and Mike Knuble, Cleary and Horcoff were the first two North American NHLers to find roster spots in Sweden with the lockout looming.
Cleary and Horcoff were linemates. Horcoff finished third in the league in scoring behind Henrik Zetterberg and Kristian Huselius. Cleary was ninth in the league in assists and fourth in penalty minutes.
Mora, which featured Andreas Lilja on the blue line, picked up NHLers Marian and Marcel Hossa and Ladislav Nagy during the season.
The team hoped to stay out of the relegation zone by not finishing in the bottom two of the standings. Instead, Mora finished tied for the final playoff spot, losing out on a post-season bid on a tie-breaker.
"It was one of the best experiences I've ever had in hockey," said Cleary. "They treated us amazingly. Unbelievable. They treated us like we had been playing there for 15 years."
When Cleary and his wife returned from Mora, they had two months of waiting before Phoenix finally cut him loose. Cleary then went to camp with the Red Wings and made the team as a long-shot.
To this day, Cleary still has contact with people from Mora. He talks with the team trainer frequently. He gets e-mails from people there. Ask him about the Elite League in the third season after he left and Cleary can tell you that Mora finally fell to the relegation zone, but can stay in the top division by winning a playdown.
"I'm hoping they stay up," said Cleary, sounding like a fan.
There's a lot more connecting Dan Cleary and the Mora team than just one year spent together because of a lockout.
Like Mora, Cleary has had to work hard to stay in the big time. Like Mora, Cleary was a long-shot, who found a way in through an opening the size of the eye of a needle.
The contract that Cleary signed this week signaled that he'll be staying in the big-time for a long time. And if Mora is as much like Dan Cleary as it seems, if that team helped this Red Wing get where he is today, then I think I've found a Swedish team for which to root.

Pronger gets eight-game suspension

For stomping on Ryan Kesler's calf with his skate, Anaheim defenseman Chris Pronger got an eight-game suspension, Saturday. The interest to Red Wings fans is obvious. Anaheim is a big challenger for the Western Conference title and the defending Stanley Cup champion. Pronger's previous suspension -- his seventh of eight in his career -- was for slamming Tomas Holmstrom's head into the glass during the Western Conference final last spring.
I won't bring up the obvious disparity between Pronger's eight-game suspension and Chris Simon's 30-game ban for kicking. That's obvious. I won't mention that Pronger has a prior suspension for kicking.
To me, this suspension is way too short. Anaheim, comfortable in its playoff berth, gets Pronger back before the start of the post-season. Pronger's action was one of the worst that can happen in a game. I'm old enough to remember how North Americans reacted during the '72 Summit Series when a Russian kicked Gary Bergman.
I'm sure that NHL disciplinarian Colin Campbell agrees that stomping or kicking an opponent with a metal blade is something that cannot be allowed. I'm certain of this.
These are Campbell's words ...
“While it was fortunate there was no serious injury to Mr. Ruutu as a result of Simon’s action, the deliberate act of kicking an opponent with an exposed skate blade, especially where the opponent is in a vulnerable position, is and always has been a repugnant and totally unacceptable act in the game of hockey.
“While the act itself was extremely dangerous, the fact that this is the eighth incident requiring the imposition of supplementary discipline on Simon compelled me to impose a very severe penalty in this case.”
the deliberate act of kicking an opponent with an exposed skate blade, especially where the opponent is in a vulnerable position, is and always has been a repugnant and totally unacceptable act in the game of hockey.

Sorry, I said I wouldn't bring up Chris Simon. But this was the eighth suspension for Pronger as well. It was just as dangerous of an act as Simon's. Why is an eight-game suspension sufficient for Pronger when Simon got 30? Heck, Simon had to go to counseling. Pronger is praised as a warrior.
I think the reason is that although using a skate blade as a weapon is an age-old no-no in hockey, there is something that's apparently a bigger sin ... sidelining a star player.

Ritola recalled by Red Wings

More help coming up from Grand Rapids. From the Griffins PR staff ...

The Detroit Red Wings on Saturday recalled left wing Mattias Ritola from the Grand Rapids Griffins, who today welcomed back goaltender Dan Turple on assignment by the Atlanta Thrashers.
Ritola, who turned 21 on Friday, leads all Griffins with a plus-15 rating and places second among the team’s rookies with 22 points (6-16—22) in 60 games. The native of Borlange, Sweden, is playing his best hockey of the season, showing points in four of the last five games (2-3—5).
Ritola joins Griffins teammates Darren Helm and Jimmy Howard on the Red Wings’ roster. Should he make his NHL debut this afternoon when Detroit hosts the Nashville Predators at 1 p.m., he would become the 93rd Griffins alumnus in the franchise’s 12-year history to play in the NHL.
It is expected that Ritola will rejoin Grand Rapids later today and complete a rare double-header by playing for the Griffins tonight when they host the Lake Erie Monsters at 7 p.m.
In light of Howard’s ongoing stint with the Wings, Turple will serve as the backup to Adam Berkhoel during tonight’s Griffins game. Turple, who has played most of the season with the ECHL’s Gwinnett Gladiators, shows a 3.00 goals against average and a 0.857 save percentage for one period of work for Grand Rapids on Feb. 24.

Friday, March 14, 2008

Old-time hockey

For those of us who love hockey history, the NHL Channel is playing a regular-season Wings/Leafs game from Jan. 1970 right now (3-5 p.m. Friday). Jimmy Rutherford vs. Jacques Plante in net. The game will be replayed from 3-5:30 a.m. early Monday morning.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Going for 100

If the Red Wings beat Dallas tonight, they'll have their eighth consecutive 100-point season. That will match the NHL record set by the Montreal Canadiens of 74-82. Of course, the Habs did it with ties not being a bad word and no three-point games, but the Wings' streak is still impressive. No other team has done it in the age of shootout losses.

Here's the team press release ...
The Detroit Red Wings are two points from reaching the 100-point mark for the eighth consecutive season, a run that would match the Montreal Canadiens' record streak from 1974-75 through 1981-82. The Red Wings can equal the Canadiens' historic achievement when they host the Dallas Stars tonight (HD Net, 7:30 p.m., ET).
The Red Wings upped their NHL-best record to 46-18-6 for 98 points Tuesday with a 3-1 victory over the Chicago Blackhawks. They hold a commanding 20-point lead in the Central Division and top the NHL overall standings by eight points in the race for the Presidents' Trophy as the NHL's top regular-season club, an award Detroit has captured five times in the past 12 seasons.
In addition, Detroit's next victory would clinch its seventh consecutive division title as well as a berth in the Stanley Cup playoffs for the 17th consecutive season, the longest active streak of qualifying for the postseason among the major pro sports.
The Red Wings began their 100-point streak in 1999-2000, posting a 48-22-12 record for 108 points and finishing second in the Central Division. In 2001-02, an already-strong lineup was bolstered by the addition of forwards Brett Hull, Pavel Datsyuk and Luc Robitaille, and goaltender Dominik Hasek. The Red Wings went 51-17-14 during the regular season and captured the Stanley Cup in a five-game triumph over the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Canadiens' streak surrounded one of the dynasties of the League's modern era, when the club captured four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1975-76 through 1978-79. In 1976-77, Montreal lost just eight times in the regular season (60-8-12) and swept the Boston Bruins in the Stanley Cup Final.
What both clubs' record streaks have in common is Hockey Hall of Fame head coach Scotty Bowman, who directed the Canadiens to the first five of their eight consecutive 100-point seasons -- including the four consecutive Stanley Cup championships -- and led the Red Wings in their first three seasons, including the Cup win in 2002.
Stability has been the hallmark of Detroit's success since 1999. Ken Holland has served in the Red Wings' front office since 1985 and has been the club's general manager since July, 1997. Assistant GM Jim Nill joined the front office in 1994. Five players -- defensemen Nicklas Lidstrom and Chris Chelios, and forwards Kris Draper, Kirk Maltby and Tomas Holmstrom -- have skated for the Red Wings in each of the past eight seasons. The roster's core of younger players, led by Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Niklas Kronwall, Brett Lebda, Valtteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler, have worn the red-and-white jersey throughout their NHL careers.

Right feels right

When the Red Wings acquired Brad Stuart at the trade deadline, they picked up more than just a hard hitting defenseman who can play the power play or kill penalties. They also picked up a blue-liner who is comfortable playing either side of the ice, an important asset in today's world of so many left-handed shots.
"I actually prefer the right side," said the left-handed shooting Stuart. "I've been playing the left all year, but before that, I played a lot of right. … I just feel more comfortable on the right. I feel it's my strong side."
The Red Wings have two right-handed shooters at defense -- Chris Chelios and Brian Rafalski. When Stuart joined the Wings, both Chelios and Rafalski were out with injuries.
Lilja has been one left-hander who has played the right side throughout his three-year stay in Detroit. Other lefties will play the right side, but Lilja and Stuart at the two happiest to flop sides.
Stuart said that in his experience, older players are less likely to feel comfortable on the opposite point than young players. And because there are so few righties in the league, they have less experience playing the left side than lefties do playing the right side.
And the reason why there are so many more left-handed shots than right? Forty years ago, a right-handed person was much more likely to shoot right-handed. You have a more powerful shot that way. Nowadays, if you're right-handed, you're more likely to shoot left-handed. With a dominant top hand, you can handle the puck better.
On the Red Wings, right-handed shots Brian Rafalski and Mikael Samuelsson are both left-handed. Chris Chelios, Kirk Maltby and Aaron Downey are right-handed shots who are right-handed.

Draper out, Helm called up

Kris Draper has a tear in his groin -- an ultrasound yesterday showed as much -- and won't play tonight to rest his injury. With Tomas Holmstrom (abdominals) and Dan Cleary (broken jaw) still sidelined, the Red Wings called up 20-year-old Darren Helm from Grand Rapids for tonight's game.
Also, Darren McCarty (ribs) practiced with the team for the first time this morning. His injury, however, could keep him out another couple of weeks.
Dominik Hasek's back is still sore, so he'll sit out tonight's game. Jimmy Howard has been recalled from Grand Rapids to back up starter Chris Osgood.

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Wisniewski suspended for hit on Samuelsson

Chicago's James Wisniewski got a one-game suspension for cross-checking Mikael Samuelsson in the throat, Tuesday. Samuelsson had a froggy voice and was still sore after practice today.
"It was an accident," said Samuelsson. "That's what I think. He tried to hit me in the chest and it just went up."
Samuelsson said that he had a similar injury once when playing in Sweden.

Griffins add forward from Central League

From the Griffins' PR staff (has to be the best PR staff in the AHL) ...

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – The Grand Rapids Griffins on Wednesday signed left wing Mark O’Leary to a professional tryout. A native of Owen Sound, Ontario, the 23-year-old O’Leary has appeared in 55 games with the Central Hockey League’s Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees this season, tallying 20 points (5-15—20) and 73 penalty minutes.
The second-year pro will be available to make his American Hockey League debut tonight when the Griffins host the Toronto Marlies at 7 p.m.

Hasek's back is sore, will rest Thursday

Dominik Hasek left today's practice early, experiencing soreness in his back. Hasek won't start Thursday's home game against Dallas -- Chris Osgood will -- and coach Mike Babcock said that he didn't know if Hasek will be available for back-up duty or if they'll have to recall Jimmy Howard from Grand Rapids.
Hasek said that he might be ready for Thursday's game, if not then he said that he wants to be sure that he's ready for Saturday afternoon. Hasek said that he left the ice early to get some treatment. Babcock said that Hasek will start Saturday's game.
The netminder hurt his back in the second period against Nashville, Sunday.

Also from today's practice ...
-- Defenseman Andreas Lilja was home sick. He will not play Thursday night with Brett Lebda skating instead. Lebda was a healthy scratch, Tuesday.
"I didn't have to make a decision," said Babcock.
-- Valtteri Filppula sat out today's practice to rest his sore thigh. He'll be in the lineup Thursday.
-- Mikael Samuelsson had a froggy voice after being cross-checked in the throat by James Wisniewski in last night's game. Samuelsson practiced and is good to go in tomorrow's game.

Wednesday practice

The players are on the ice right now ... all of the players except for Valtteri Filppula and Andreas Lilja. Filppula missed a practice last weekend with a sore thigh, but hasn't missed any game action. Lilja has been healthy of late.
I'll update after practice.

Stuart's a hit

Brad Stuart is physical by NHL standards. The defenceman has 99 hits this season -- a total topped on the Red Wings only by Andreas Lilja (120).
The Wings knew they were getting a hitter when they added Stuart at the trade deadline and so far he's lived up to the billing. In his five games with Detroit, Stuart leads the team with 11 hits.
Here's a look at the Red Wings' leaders in hits over the past five games ...
Stuart 11
Drake 10
Downey 8
Lilja 7
Samuelsson 7
Draper 6
Franzen 6
Kronwall 6
Dallas Drake's recent play has been good and this stat reflects that. Aaron Downey's ability to rack up two or three hits on one shift is remarkable. I'd never have guessed Mikael Samuelsson would be on the list, but he doesn't shy away from taking the body.

Red Wings' 2008-09 payroll

With the signing of Dan Cleary, next year's payroll -- and thus next year's team -- becomes easier to see.
Here's a look at the contracts already in place with cap hit salaries in millions ...
Datsyuk $6.7
Cleary $2.8
Zetterberg $2.65
Holmstrom $2.25
Draper $1.583
Samuelsson $1.2
Hudler $1.015
Franzen $.941666
Maltby $.883333
Kopecky $.5
Lidstrom $7.45
Rafalski $6
Kronwall $3
Lebda $.65
Meech $.483333
Osgood $1.416667

That all totals up to $39.523 million. The remaining holes are ... three or four forwards, two or three defensemen, and one goalie.
Of those three forwards, one will be Valtteri Filppula, a restricted free agent. Of the defensemen, one will likely be Chris Chelios (unrestricted free agent) and another Kyle Quincey (restricted). The second goalie could be Jimmy Howard (restricted).

The following are just guesses, but add on $1 million for Filppula, $.85 for Chelios, $.55 for Quincey and $.8 for Howard and the payroll is up to a total of $42.723.

And that means that the Red Wings are in a pretty good position financially for next season. For two or three forwards or maybe one defenseman like Brad Stuart, there's $7 million under the current salary cap and perhaps $12 million under next year's cap.

Of course, if Dominik Hasek comes back or ... well, there still are some things that are mysteries.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Cleary talks about his new contract

From Dan Cleary after Tuesday's game ...

-- Ever since I came to Detroit a few years ago, it's been a good fit I think for both sides. This is one of the proudest days I've ever had other than being married or having a child. I'm really happy about it and really thankful as well.
-- Probably making the team on a tryout was the hardest part. I found a role the first year and I think I tried to expand on it each year.
-- Hard work pays off and I'm really thankful for today.
-- Think about testing the market? -- I really never (did). I always felt inside that it would get done. What else can you say? For me being a Red Wing is truly amazing.

Holland speaks about Cleary

Here's an unedited transcription of quotes from general manager Ken Holland about the Dan Cleary signing -- five years, $14 million, with 3 1/2 years of no-trade.

-- It started a little bit in training camp. We've gone back and forth the past two or three weeks, got close enough to where we could make a deal.
We really think he's just getting better and better. His career's going to take steps forward.
-- We found a way to get a deal done.
-- He's a great story for us. We happened to find him at the right time. He was just maturing. Part of us signing him to a long-term deal is you look at his history. He was a real top junior. He was a top-15 pick in the (NHL) draft. He was a leading scorer in junior.
-- He came in, he was looking for a job. He won over Mike Babcock the first year by being a good penalty killer.
-- We wanted to lock him up long-term. We're talking a little higher base and shorter term. Cap number is important to us. This makes the cap number a little lower and he got term and security.
-- Heading into this summer, he was a key guy. We talked about if you don't get him signed, how do you replace him. He's playing 17-18 minutes a night. He's killing penalties, he's on the power play. He does a lot of things for us. How do you replace him?
-- If you look at players who have 40 points in 58 games, they're getting salaries in the mid-threes ($3 million).
-- Basically, the trade-off is "I like it here. I want to be here. I'll take less money, but in return I want to know I'm signing to be here." I think the no-trade for me is about knowing he's mature, he's committed … so I don't have a problem with the no-trade.
-- We both know on the open market July 1, he's getting more money that we offered.
If you hit the July 1 market, you're negotiating with 29 other teams.

-- I don't know if we're going to do anything the rest of the way (before July 1). We've probably 10 defensemen we're real comfortable with right now, so we've got the rest of the year to evaluate where we're going.

On potential free agent Andreas Lilja -- I've had no talks with Lilja's agents in a month. I told them I'm prepared to wait 'til the end of the year. If they're comfortable, I'm comfortable.

Cleary signs for five years

The Red Wings signed Dan Cleary to a five-year contract right before the start of tonight's game.
Cleary's deal is worth a total of $14 million. It includes a no-trade clause for the first three and a half years that expires one month before the trade deadline in the fourth year.
Cleary is making $675,000 this season and is a $662,500 hit on the salary cap on the second year of a two-year deal.
"We're very pleased to have Dan continue as a member of the Red Wings for the next five years," said Detroit general manager Ken Holland. "He's found a home with our team and city and at 29 years of age, we feel he is just beginning to hit the prime of his career."
Holland also said Tuesday night that he hasn't spoken with Andreas Lilja's agent in a month, but is open to re-signing the defenseman, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer.

Monday, March 10, 2008

MRI on Homer brings good news

General manager Ken Holland said the results of Tomas Holmstrom's MRI were negative, which is great news for the Red Wings. With neither the MRI or ultrasound showing damage to his lower abdominal region, Holmstrom could be back on the ice soon.
"Our hope is it's an inflammation," said Holland. "He's been feeling better and we hope he can skate tomorrow. If he continues to have problems, we'll run more tests. Right now, all reports are positive."
Holmstrom said that he will try to practice tomorrow morning with the team. He won't play tomorrow night ... his second straight game out after experiencing sharp abdominal pains at Saturday's practice.

Homer feeling better

Tomas Holmstrom had an ultrasound and an MRI on his lower abdominals, this morning. The ultrasound results are back and showed nothing wrong. The MRI results will be back later today.
Encouragingly, Holmstrom said that after feeling sharp pain Saturday, he felt better on Sunday and better still today.
"It feels better and better every day," said Holmstrom. "Saturday was so bad. There was no way I could practice. I was worried."
Holmstrom said that he hopes to be able to practice with the Red Wings, tomorrow.

In other Wings news, Monday ...
-- Rookie defenseman Jonathan Ericsson was assigned to Grand Rapids after a seven-game stay in the NHL. Ericsson was moved so that he'd get ice time. With Brian Rafalski and Nicklas Lidstrom back, there was no spot for him in the lineup. Coach Mike Babcock said that he considers Ericsson an NHL player right now, one that he would put in the lineup without hesitation.
-- Chris Chelios (chipped fibula) said that he's ready to play Tuesday, in fact he was ready to play Sunday. Babcock said that he still needs to talk to the training staff to see if Chelios has the green light.
"I was ready yesterday, so I don't know what's going on," said Chelios. "I'm ready."

Monday practice update

Who's not on the ice ... Jonathan Ericsson, who has been sent back to Grand Rapids; Darren McCarty, who has injured ribs; and Tomas Holmstrom, who's having an MRI on his sore groin this morning.
Brett Lebda, who was out with illness over the weekend, is back on the ice. He's one of eight defensemen.
Defense pairings ...
The forward lines are the same with Jiri Hudler skating in Holmstrom's sport on Pavel Datsyuk's right side.

Saturday, March 8, 2008

Ericsson's time has come

DETROIT -- Jonathan Ericsson was big, talented and young. But he was still riding the bench, waiting for ice time like a dieter anticipates his next meal.
The Swedish Elite League was not good for Ericsson's development. In his final two seasons in Sweden, Ericsson had no points in 39 total games with Sodertalje. During both of those seasons, Ericsson not only was sent out on loan to a lower-division club … he asked to be loaned out.
Ericsson is now a Detroit Red Wing, at least for the short-term until he's sent back to Grand Rapids when the Red Wings' defensemen get healthy. In North America, he's also one of the shining stars in Detroit's stable of prospects, being an American Hockey League all-star this season and acquitting himself well in this his first NHL call-up.
Coming to North America nearly two years ago has turned out to be the best thing that's happened in Ericsson's career.
"Fortunately I got a lot more ice time and I really liked the game over here," said Ericsson. "They say that young players shouldn't go overseas (to North America), that they should establish themselves in Sweden and make the national team before coming over. For me, this was the best thing that ever happened to me to come over here and get to play."
When Ericsson joined the Red Wings, Feb. 22, he became the lowest drafted player to ever appear in an NHL game. Ericsson was the final selection of the 2002 NHL draft … the 291st player taken overall.
He has played six games and could get into a seventh today when the Red Wings host the Nashville Predators Sunday. Ericsson was in the lineup Wednesday, bumping Derek Meech to healthy-scratch status.
If Nicklas Lidstrom returns as scheduled from his sprained MCL, either Ericsson or Meech will be a healthy scratch. If Lidstrom isn't able to go, both will get in the lineup.
Playing on the same blue line as the likes of a five-time Norris Trophy winner like Lidstrom is a lofty place for Ericsson to be just two years after being at the end of the bench in Sweden.
With the Red Wings, Ericsson is averaging a healthy 16:19 of ice time per game. That's more than Meech or Kyle Quincey averaged this season with the Red Wings.
"I just wanted to try something new by coming over here," said Ericsson. "I was stuck. I didn't feel like I got an honest chance actually. When the season started up, they brought in more defensemen and I got less and less ice time.
"It's not as long a season as it is here, so every game is so important there. I played on a team where we had to fight and battle every game just to survive in the (Elite League). I think they were very cautious."

Saturday practice update

-- Tomas Holmstrom couldn't practice today because he tweaked his abdominals. He's not going to play Sunday.
-- Brett Lebda is also out of the lineup Sunday and didn't practice today because he was ill.
-- Valtteri Filppula practiced and is good to go, Sunday, despite a sore thigh.
-- Nicklas Lidstrom is on track to play Sunday, unless he feels soreness in the morning. If Lidstrom plays, either Derek Meech or Jonathan Ericsson will be scratched. Coach Mike Babcock wouldn't say which one, but did say that it would be one of those two. Both will play if Lidstrom cannot.
-- Darren McCarty has his own locker stall. His rib injury, however, kept him out of practice today and won't allow him to be in the lineup Sunday.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Chelios on Rafalski's battle

The funniest part of Friday's post-practice interviews came when Chris Chelios was asked about Brian Rafalski wrestling Lee Stempniak to the ice.

"As long as you land on top at home, that's all that matters. Although there were no punches thrown, that was one of the best takedowns I've seen."

An injured Chelios was in the family room watching the game on television when the scrum broke out
"Listening to his wife was pretty funny, entertaining. It was almost X-rated. I can't repeat it. It was fun."

"That was old-school the takedown."

"He's got a little temper, Raffi. It takes a while to get to it, but he's got a temper."

McCarty a Red Wing

Darren McCarty's stay with the Grand Rapids Griffins is over. He was recalled by the Red Wings, Friday, ending his conditioning stint in the American Hockey League.
McCarty, whose contract was bought out by the Red Wings in 2005, played two seasons in Calgary before finding himself out of hockey at the start of this season. McCarty's comeback started when former teammate Kris Draper set him up with Flint of the IHL -- a franchise that Draper co-owns.
While playing with Flint, McCarty was signed by the Red Wings, Feb. 25, and spent five weeks with the Griffins.
McCarty was scheduled to return to the Red Wings next Monday, but he suffered a rib injury in Grand Rapids that presumably won't allow him to play tomorrow for the Griffins. He had the injured tended to at Joe Louis Arena, Friday. Since he's not able to play in Grand Rapids, then the team decided he might as well stay in Detroit.

Even strength scoring

I posted a note last month about the Red Wings' leaders in even-strength goals. Here's a look at the entire NHL, stripping away power-play and short-handed goals to show who can put the puck in the net at even strength.
One stat that jumps out is that Alexander Ovechkin has 36 even-strength goals. That's more than all but four players' total number of goals scored (Ilya Kovalchuk, Jarome Iginla, Evgeni Malkin and Danile Alfredsson).

Even-Strength Goals Scored
1 Ovechkin, Wash, 36
2 Kovalchuk, Atl, 28
3 Iginla, Cal, 27
4 Gaborik, Min, 26
5 Malkin, Pit, 25
6 Lecavalier, TB, 23
6 Heatley, Ott, 23
6 Svatos, Col, 23
9 Zetterberg, Det, 22
9 Boyes, StL, 22
11 Alfredsson, Ott, 21
11 Prospal, Phi, 21
11 Sundin, Tor, 21

Now here's a look at how players are scoring with ice time factored in (using players with 16 or more even-strength goals scored). These are the NHL leaders in even-strength goals per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time ...

ES Goals/60 Min ES Ice Time
1 Svatos, Col, 2.00
2 Ovechkin, Wash, 1.82
3 Kovalchuk, Atl, 1.65
4 Gaborik, Min, 1.64
5 Iginla, Cal, 1.46
6 Boyes, StL, 1.43
7 Booth, Fla, 1.40
8 Heatley, Ott, 1.40
9 Malkin, Pit, 1.39
10 Zetterberg, Det, 1.39
11 Radulov, Nas, 1.36
12 Alfredsson, Ott, 1.35
13 Nash, CBJ, 1.34
14 Whitney, Car, 1.34
15 Crosby, Pit, 1.33
16 Hagman, Dal, 1.32
17 Erat, Nas, 1.30
18 Sharp, Chi, 1.30
19 Ribero, Dal, 1.27
20 Vrabata, Pho, 1.26

What jumps out of these stats is what a great season that Marek Svatos was having. Before being injured, he had just 689 minutes of even-strength ice time. Vinny Lecavalier has the same number of even-strength goals as Svatos (23), but has played 1,159 minutes. When you're outscoring Ovechkin in any way, shape or form this season ... you're doing something amazing.
Also, Nashville's strength comes out in these stats. Radulov (11th) and Erat (17th) are in the league's top 20 while Dumont just misses at 23rd.

Post practice update

-- Nicklas Lidstrom said that he felt great and is still on track for playing Sunday. The team will decide after Saturday's practice if Lidstrom has recovered fully from his sprained MCL to return this weekend.
-- Chris Chelios (chipped fibule) said that he felt significant improvement. Chelios said that he feels he might be ready for Sunday, but it doesn't look like he'll dress for that game. Next Tuesday's game is a possibility for his return.
Both Chelios and Lidstrom took part in battle drills today.
-- Darren McCarty was at Joe Louis Arena getting some medical attention for his injured ribs. McCarty might play for Grand Rapids tomorrow. He'll be with the Red Wings starting next Monday when his two-week conditioning stint is don.
-- Valtteri Filppula did not practice today. He has a leg injury, but coach Mike Babcock said that Filppula will be ready to play Sunday.
-- Tomas Kopecky is fine and took part in the full practice. Kopecky had his bell rung by a hit (called dirty by Kopecky) when he didn't have the puck in the final minute of Wednesday's game. Kopecky said that he was groggy and remained sore the next day, but is back to 100 percent.

Friday practice update

Both Chris Chelios and Nicklas Lidstrom practiced this morning and took part in battle drills. That means both are progressing closer to returning to the lineup.
Valtteri Filppula was not on the ice at practice. I'll update that after the post-practice interviews.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Kopecky OK, according to coach

Coach Mike Babcock said in the post-game interview that Tomas Kopecky was shake but fine after the late hit by Jeff Woywitka with 40.6 seconds left in Detroit's 4-1 win over the St. Louis Blues.
"He's fine; He's fine," said Babcock. "The only problem is he got dazed."
The Red Wings have tomorrow off, so Friday's practice will be the next opportunity to check if Kopecky is doing OK.

Power plays drawn

Entering tonight's game against St. Louis, here are how many power plays drawn, power plays given and PP plus-minus for individual Wings ...

Name, PP Drawn, PP Given, +/-
Datsyuk, 36, 7, +29
Zetterberg, 31, 17, +14
Samuelsson, 21, 11, +10
Cleary, 21, 14, +7
Drake, 18, 11, +7
Filppula, 17, 12, +5
Kopecky, 17, 14, +3
Franzen, 20, 18, +2
Hudler, 10, 9, +1
Holmstrom, 28, 29, -1
Maltby, 11, 12, -1
Hartigan, 0, 1, -1
Ellis, 2, 6, -4
Downey, 15, 24, -9
Draper, 18, 32, -14

Meech, 3, 2, +1
Quincey, 0, 1, -1
Ericsson, 0, 1, -1
Stuart, 0, 1, -1
Rafalski, 8, 12, -4
Chelios, 6, 10, -4
Lebda, 13, 18, -5
Kronwall, 9, 17, -8
Lidstrom, 3, 17, -14
Lilja, 10, 34, -24

Osgood, 3, 0, +3
Hasek, 4, 5, -1

Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Post practice update

From today ...

-- Nicklas Lidstrom (knee) might be ready to play Sunday. He felt fine at practice and was told not to take part in battle drills by the training staff.
-- Chris Chelios (bone chip in leg) is in the same situation. He felt good and was told not to participate in battle drills today. Chelios says that he's day-to-day. He felt a setback after one practice last week, but was fine today.
-- Brian Rafalski (groin) will play tomorrow unless he has a setback at the morning skate.
-- Jonathan Ericsson will stay with the team for now. Coach Mike Babcock said that even if Rafalski is back in the lineup, Ericsson will play tomorrow. But Babcock wouldn't say which defenseman would sit out. General manager Ken Holland said that Ericsson will stay with the team until he's not in the lineup, probably when Lidstrom returns.
-- Dominik Hasek will get his third consecutive start tomorrow. Hasek said that the coaches told him that he'd start on average two of three games down the stretch.

Tuesday's practice

The Red Wings are practicing late today, getting on the ice at 3:30 p.m. There are plenty of defensemen again (nine).
The biggest news is that Nicklas Lidstrom practicing for the first time since suffering a strained MCL in Denver. Chris Chelios is practicing as well as is Brian Rafalski who had planned on returning to the lineup tomorrow.
In case Rafalski isn't ready, Jonathan Ericsson is still with the team.
Also, Dan Cleary (broken jaw) is practicing again with football-mask style protection in front of his jaw. Cleary started practicing with the team last Saturday.

MID-PRACTICE UPDATE: Lidstrom took part in the first few non-contact drills and has now left the ice. Ditto for Chelios. Neither was expected to take part in the full practice today, so just participating in the early portion is a good sign of improvement.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Trying to clear up the Clear Day roster

Although Darren McCarty was put on Grand Rapids' 22-man Clear Day roster, he might not be in the Griffins' playoff plans. The Clear Day roster is the list of players who are eligible for the American Hockey League playoffs. If you're not on the list, you can't play in the post-season.
Detroit general manager Ken Holland has said that McCarty will be with the Red Wings once his conditioning stint is over.
According to Randy Cleves, the Griffins' senior director of public relations, McCarty needed to be on the Clear Day roster to ensure that he would be AHL eligible for the remainder of his conditioning stint. That rule makes no sense to me, but it wouldn't be the first AHL rule that sounds goofy.
There was a scenario in which McCarty wouldn't be eligible had he not been on the list and some of the Griffins' emergency conditions had been alleviated by players returning from injuries or being assigned by the Red Wings.
So, McCarty might remain with the Red Wings once he arrives next Monday.

Wings finally get secondary scoring

DETROIT -- If their season started at Game 67, then the Detroit Red Wings will be content.
What happened in Game 67 -- a 4-2 win in Buffalo, Sunday night -- is what needs to happen come playoff time. The Red Wings got significant offensive contributions from players other than Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk.
The team is hoping that reversal becomes the norm, starting in Wednesday's home game against St. Louis (7:30 p.m., FSN).
"For this team to be successful, especially come playoff time, we need some production from the third and fourth lines," said Kirk Maltby. "Hopefully, this is just a start to finishing the season strong."
Maltby was a part of that scoring renaissance, Monday. The third-line winger scored his first goal since Oct. 26, ending a 36-game goal-less drought.
In addition, third-liner Dallas Drake netted his third goal of the season -- his first point since Jan. 10. Second-liner Johan Franzen scored as did first-liner Valtteri Filppula.
It all added up to a four-goal performance with all four coming from players not named Zetterberg or Datsyuk.
"We haven't been scoring at all," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "We haven't gotten any secondary scoring. We talked a lot about it. Just get to the net, shoot the puck."
Sunday's game was a stark contrast to what had been going on during the Red Wings' 1-8-2 slump.
(That was Detroit's worst 11-game slump since going 0-9-2 including two ties, Oct. 24-Nov. 16, 1989. That was the last season that the Red Wings didn't make the playoffs.)
During their recent slump, the Red Wings scored 20 goals in 11 games. Ten of those goals (50 percent) were scored by either Zetterberg or Datsyuk.
Before the slump (through the first 55 games), the Red Wings netted 180 goals with 49 scored by Zetterberg or Datsyuk (27 percent).
In other words, Detroit's scoring from players other than Zetterberg and Datsyuk dropped from 73 percent of the team's total before the slump to just 50 percent during the slump.
Before Drake scored in the first period, Sunday, Detroit had gone 10 games without a goal from its third or fourth lines. (Tomas Kopecky was the most recent, scoring Feb. 7.)
"We haven't played all that bad in this slump we've been in," said Maltby. "We just have been finding ways to lose. Whether it's not getting any scoring from our third and fourth lines, helping out Zetterberg and Datsyuk … We just weren't getting the job done."
Among the forwards who have been slumping are: Tomas Holmstrom, who has gone 15 games without a goal; Kris Draper who has gone 14 games without a goal; and Aaron Downey, who hasn't scored in his 44 games this season.
Filppula broke a 10-game goal-less drought recently and has netted three goals in the past six games.
"You try to do everything the same way," said Filppula of offensive slumps. "Sometimes pucks go in and sometimes they don't. The key is to just work same way, try to do the same thing."

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Post practice update

-- Dominik Hasek will start in goal Sunday in Buffalo. "We've got to get him going," said coach Mike Babcock.
-- Defenseman Brian Rafalski (groin) had another good day of practice with no ill effects. He will travel to Buffalo, but won't play. Rafalski said that he will be back in the lineup Wednesday unless he has a setback.
"It's all just conditioning now," said Rafalski. "Everything feels fine."

Early update from Saturday's practice

Late practice today (started at 3 p.m.) with the team flying out to Buffalo right after the skate.
-- Dan Cleary is on the ice (with big protection for his broken jaw). It's the first time that Cleary has skated since the injury in Toronto. On Thursday, Cleary said that he hoped to be back on the ice, Monday or Sunday, so he's ahead of that schedule.
-- Brian Rafalski (groin) is taking part in the drills. Chris Chelios (chipped bone) wasn't on the ice at all for the first time this week.
-- Jonathan Ericsson is still with the team.
-- The lines are the same as they were at Friday's loss to San Jose.

Even strength scoring

The Red Wings have gone seven of their last 11 games without an even-strength goal. They've been outscored 25-8 during their 1-8-2 stretch at even strength. Here's a look at who scores the Wings' even-strength goals ...

Zetterberg 22
Filppula 15
Cleary 15
Datsyuk 13
Holmstrom 9
Hudler 9
Draper 7
Samuelsson 7
Franzen 6
Kronwall 5
Lidstrom 5
Kopecky 4
Lebda 3
Maltby 3
Chelios 2
Lilja 2
Rafalski 2
Drake 1

This stat is too often overlooked. Although the Zetterberg-Datsyuk-Holmstrom line is potent when together, they don't dominate the team in even-strength goals. A pretty balanced second line can be formed without splitting Zetterberg and Datsyuk.
Also, Mathieu Schneider had a reputation as a power-play guy, but he was lethal at even strength. In Schneider's three full seasons in Detroit, he had 9, 10 and 10 even-strength goals. Brian Rafalski isn't nearly as productive at even strength as Schneider, but is better on the power play.