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.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Babcock's start in coaching

DETROIT -- Where to begin. Where to begin.

It's difficult enough just in speaking to figure out a way to get started. Try pinpointing a starting spot for the road that leads to Stanley Cup championship coach.

Mike Babcock grew up in the hockey-rich environment of Saskatchewan. He played the game at the collegiate level in hockey-mad Montreal.

As a coach, Babcock guided the Detroit Red Wings to a Stanley Cup last spring, led the Red Wings to three consecutive 50-win seasons, guided the Anaheim Ducks to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup final in his first season behind an NHL bench, won a gold medal at the World Championships, another gold at the World Junior Championships and won a Canadian university national championship.

But Babcock's starting point as a coach was the unlikely coastal resort town of Whitley Bay in the northeast of England where neighboring towns had names like North Charlton and Newton-On-The-Moor, Adderstone and Berwick-Upon-Tweed.

"That's how I got started," said Babcock. "The imports (non-British players) were good, but the hockey wasn't as good as in other (European) countries. What was great was you could speak the language. You had a real good life there. I loved it."

After graduating from McGill University, Babcock found a teaching position at Northumberland Community College in England in 1987. He also found a hockey position in nearby Whitley Bay, being one of the Whitley Warriors' three import players and coaching the team.

As a defenseman, Babcock was a success with the Warriors, being named to the six-member Premier Division all-star team after the season.

He produced 34 goals and 132 points in 36 games in a high-scoring circuit. (The Warriors averaged 10.3 goals scored per game and were still second in the league in that cateogory.) He was third on the Warriors in scoring behind fellow Canadian imports Scott Morrison and Luc Chabot. Morrison, a forward, joined Babcock on the Premiership all-star team.

As a coach, Babcock cut his teeth as a hybrid, running practices and making strategy decisions, but leaving the in-game bench-boss work to Terry Matthews, a 47-year-old and former Whitley Warriors star who was named to the British Hockey Hall of Fame the year that Babcock came over to coach.

"I think the big thing there is when you're a leader and wearing your uniform, it's a totally different thing than when you're a leader and wearing your suit," said Babcock. "Leadership as a player, part of it's talking, but more of it is when the heat's on do you deliver. I had a guy named Terry Matthews. He ran the bench during the games. I just helped with practices. I never said anything. I never changed the lines or did any of that during the game. In between periods I did, but not during the games."

Off the ice, Babcock quickly became familiar with the English northeast. To earn extra money, he and four friends would drive to Edinburgh every Tuesday and Thursday in one car. When they got to Scotland, they'd buy four cars at auctions, drive them back into England and sell them by the weekend.

There were college classes during weekdays and hockey practices two nights a week. The Warriors played mostly on weekends, two games in two nights.

"I can tell you one of the best things I did as a coach over there was I got the guys to drink on Monday and Tuesday instead of on Friday and Saturday," joked Babcock. "That might have been the biggest thing I got done."

What the player-coach role gave Babcock was coaching experience that balanced out a resume loaded with education and playing references.

Babcock's year in England was a success with the Warriors with Whitley finished second in the 10-team Premier Division and advanced to the championship game at Wembley Arena.

Babcock signed on to return to Whitley for a second season. But Red Deer College in Alberta intervened, offering Babcock the position of head coach.

"What happened was because you've got the word coach on your resume, that means you've had some experience," said Babcock. "When the Red Deer College job became available, now I had experience. Even though I had never done it. I never stood behind the bench in my life and changed lines. Any player that goes from being a player to being a coach, having confidence with your suit on and speaking to the players when you're doing it that way and doing it as a player with your equipment on … it's a big transition. There's no question about it."

Babcock spent three seasons at Red Deer College, winning the Alberta College Championship in 1989. From there, he became a head coach in the Western Hockey League, first with Moose Jaw, then with Spokane. That led to a two-year stint with the Cincinnati Ducks of the American Hockey League -- a prelude to Babcock's NHL debut With the Anaheim Ducks.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Thoughts on Game 22 (4-1 loss in Boston)

-- In a mistake-filled game, I'll bet you're curious what the one mistake that Coach Mike Babcock singled out afterwards. Andreas Lilja stepping up in the neutral zone, missing his target, creating a 2-on-1 for Boston. That led to the Bruins' first goal.

It was a bad one by Lilja. Niklas Kronwall didn't help any by skating too deep and letting the pass get through to Blake Wheeler. Ty Conklin was playing the shot and Michael Ryder as he should, so he had no chance on Wheeler.

"I thought we played pretty good through two periods," said Babcock. "We made a mistake on their first goal. We stepped up in the neutral zone. They got a 2-on-1 and buried it in the net. I don't think Ty was responsible for that."

Babcock has talked about this throughout his four seasons in Detroit. He would rather a defenseman closes the gap than step up like that.

-- Kronwall letting that Ryder pass through wasn't his worst moment. How can you get stripped of the puck while waiting on the end boards for a breakout to set up? For that matter, why wait near the corner instead of taking it behind the net? Just a bad, bad mistake by Kronwall leading to the Bruins' third goal.

-- I screwed up too. I think in my last post-game post (can I say that?) I labeled Conklin the better of the Red Wings' two goalies. Obviously I put the jinx on him. My bad. I should be benched.

-- Jiri Hudler battled well tonight. Other than the goal, he stepped up nicely and intercepted a Boston pass late in the third period to create a scoring chance. Hudler was fighting well in corners for the puck and winning a lot of his battles.

-- I don't think I've ever seen Pavel Datsyuk knocked down as much as he was in this game. The Zdeno Chara hit was a huge one. But Datsyuk was banged around a lot of other times as well.

-- The bottom line is it points out how spoiled we are as Red Wings fans when a 4-1 loss stands out like this and errors seem enormous. This is a run-of-the-mill game for most teams in half of their contests.

Meech adjusts to life up front

BOSTON -- Derek Meech was joking … wasn't he?

"I'll play goal if that gets me in the game," said Meech.

That's not likely to happen. What has happened, however, is Meech -- a life-long defenseman -- has been inserted into the Detroit Red Wings' lineup as a forward. Saturday night against the Bruins, Meech played his sixth straight game up front.

Meech did play a handful of games at forward last season as well as a few games up front when he was a 16-year-old rookie in juniors.

The reason for Meech being played at forward for half of his 12 games this season can be traced back to July 2. That's when the Red Wings signed Marian Hossa as a free agent, ensuring that Detroit would be pressed tight against the top of the NHL's salary cap all season long.

In fact, the Wings are so tight to the cap that they've carried just 22 players all season -- one less than the roster limit.

So when forwards like Tomas Holmstrom (back spasms) and Darren McCarty (groin strain) go down with injuries, the Red Wings are simply out of forwards to throw over the boards.

Meech, the team's 24-year-old spare defenseman, fills the void.

"As a young kid, you don't want to just follow the team around practicing," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "So the more he can get in the lineup, the better it is for him and long-term the better for us."

Meech has skated on the fourth line, which means that ice time is doled out in small portions. In four of Meech's first five games up front this season, he played less than 10 minutes.

"It's an adjustment," said Meech. "I think it's important for me being on that fourth line to go out there and get that energy going. I need to get myself into the game because you never know when that next shift is going to be. I just have to get in there early. I'm starting to realize that now. Try to fire the boys up early with some energy."

As for the nuts and bolts of the position, covering the opposition point in the Detroit defensive zone has proved to be the toughest adjustment for Meech because it's the most foreign thing for someone trained as a defenseman. Forwards often have their back to point men and playing with your back to the opposition isn't something that defensemen often do.

"That sort of thing, defensemen never do," said Meech. "That's the biggest adjustment, being in the right spot in the defensive zone. Knowing that as a 'D', I'm coming down to hammer that forward. I'm just trying to keep my head up, stop the puck and not let it go to the point."

Saturday's morning skate

Optionals for both Detroit and Boston, meaning that there were less than a dozen players on the ice for both teams. Coach Mike Babcock said that he'll start Dan Cleary on the Pavel Datsyuk line. Cleary was moved to that line halfway through last night's game -- his first back after missing eight with a scratched cornea. The lines tonight should be ...



Chris Chelios skated again this morning. He's a week away from returning from a broken leg.

Thoughts on Game 22 (5-3 win over Columbus)

-- I'm sure other goalies have games like that one, but that just seems to be the definition of Chris Osgood's career ... make several big saves, let a ridiculous one by, in the end you win. Osgood's closest comparable goalie in that respect might be Grant Fuhr.

That said, Osgood isn't playing nearly as well as he did in the playoffs last spring. And big deal right now if he isn't on a team that is something like two wins from clinching a post-season spot. But Ty Conklin is the better goalie at the moment. In 11 of Osgood's 14 starts, he's allowed three or more goals.

"As of right now, I'm just not getting any bounces whatsoever," said Osgood. "The old cliché, you know how much I like those, you'd rather have them now than later. You'd love to get on a huge roll where you get some shutouts and one-goal games. I'm on the cusp of that. I'm just waiting for it to happen. ... It sure isn't pretty. But you're getting wins and that's what matters the most. I know it's going to turn and things are going to catch on fire. It will be awesome in the next week or two."

He's probably right.

-- Henrik Zetterberg was flying tonight. I thought he was the best forward for Detroit. He's had a better season than Pavel Datsyuk thus far. And have you noticed that Zetterberg's all-Swede line with Mikael Samuelsson and Johan Franzen has become the shut-down forward line instead of the Datsyuk line? I think the Datsyuk line was thrown out against the top opponents at the beginning of the season, but that role now belongs to Z's line. When Kristian Huselius and Rick Nash were on the ice, so were Zetterberg, Franzen and Samuelsson.

-- Odd faceoff game. Columbus went 12-4 in the circle in the first period. Detroit went 14-1 in the second period. In the third, Detroit wins the game after Datsyuk wins an offensive-zone faceoff leading directly to Marian Hossa's winning goal. Then Kris Draper wins a defensive-zone short-handed draw, leading to an insurance marker.

-- Good for Andreas Lilja. Jared Boll is supposed to win a fight against Lilja, but didn't. I liked how Lilja got in the first good shot, then after Boll landed a couple Lilja slammed back.

-- Brad Stuart's 600th career NHL game. Datsyuk's 300th career NHL assist.

-- Coach Mike Babcock switched Dan Cleary and Tomas Kopecky midway through the second period and the results were better. Kopecky hasn't looked like he fits in with Datsyuk and Hossa. He performs better with his former GR teammates Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula. Cleary does a better job with the top line of screening the goalie, finishing plays and being in position with speedsters like Hossa.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Chelios might be a week away from returning

Chris Chelios said that he needs one full non-game day practice to get himself fully ready to get back in the lineup after being shelved in the preseason with a broken leg. Unfortunately, it's not likely that the Red Wings will have a non-game day practice until Tuesday of next week.

Game-day skates are brief, lasting for less than a half-hour. Non-game day practices last from 45 minutes to an hour.

"I'm there now," said Chelios after skating with the team this morning. "Conditioning's going to be the biggest issue now. I've just got to get on the ice and have a full skate. I really haven't had a full practice with the team other than game-day skates because of the schedule and holidays. I need a full hour skate with the game.
"It's always taken me two weeks (to get ready for the season). I'm at one week now. You've got to get in game shape. Unfortunately, I don't have the exhibition season to play the 20 minutes I need. It's just going to take extra work. The biggest thing now is that I'm healthy and have no pain in my leg."

When Chelios is removed from the injured reserve list, the question becomes how is salary cap space cleared. One possibility is sending Darren McCarty to Grand Rapids although that would leave the Red Wings with just 12 forwards and eight defensemen. Derek Meech's play at forward might facilitate McCarty's demotion, giving Detroit a viable option if a forward is injured.

McCarty out of lineup

Darren McCarty tweaked a groin injury at the morning skate and has been pulled out of the lineup for tonight. It's the same groin problem that kept McCarty on the shelf at the beginning of the season, causing him to miss five games.

McCarty said the injury is day-to-day and he'll assess it again tomorrow in Boston.

The injury puts Derek Meech back in the lineup, taking McCarty's spot as fourth-line wing alongside Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby.

"I don't think it's anything super-serious, but just something that I better take care of," said McCarty. "When you're dealing with a groin, you play with a lot of dull pain. But when it becomes sharp, that's when you have to take notice of it and you have to be careful. That's when bad things happen."

McCarty said that he has had a dull pain in his groin on and off since training camp. It turned sharp when he stopped on the ice this morning.

Friday morning skate

Unless something changes, it looks like Dan Cleary scratched will be back in the lineup tonight against Columbus, his first appearance since Nov. 8.

UPDATE: Cleary confirmed after practice that he's in the lineup.
"(I'll) just play a normal game," said Cleary, who skated with Chris Chelios on Thanksgiving. "I'm not out there to dangle and try to beat everybody. It's a simple game. ... It feels like a lot longer than two and a half weeks."

Also, Darren McCarty is back in Detroit, leading the stretches as I write this, with Darren Helm being shipped back to Grand Rapids after a one-game call-up.

Here are the lines they're working out of ...


Meech (scratch)

Osgood (starts)

Chris Chelios (broken leg) is taking part in all drills.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thoughts on Game 21 (3-1 loss to Montreal)

-- Funny moment during the first TV timeout. Ty Conklin raced from the Detroit net, charged past the bench and down the hallway towards the locker room. He rushed back just before the commercials ended. I didn't get to talk to Conklin after, but it looked like he had issues with his blades because he tossed something back on the bench (was it a sharpening stone) then skated a little to test out his skates. You just don't see a goalie do that often.

-- What a tremendous hit by Brad Stuart on Alex Tanguay. Stuart missed a couple of shifts and Tanguay left the game with an undisclosed injury. What was deceptive to Tanguay is that Stuart was near another Hab as Tanguay dumped the puck in. But Stuart released his man and stepped up with perfect timing.

-- That was Niklas Kronwall's 200th career game. Because of injuries, it certainly took a lot longer than you'd think. By comparison, Brett Lebda played in his 216th game last night. Kronwall is one year older than Lebda. He was a first-round draft pick while Lebda went undrafted. Kronwall debuted in the NHL two years before Lebda.

-- Darren Helm was flying last night. No surprise. He's obviously one of the top 12 forwards in the organization. I suspect that Helm is slated to be a regular with the Wings in the playoffs with Helm getting loads of ice time in Grand Rapids in preparation. The question becomes: When do you pull Helm up for good to acclimate him to the NHL leading in to the playoffs. Does he need a month to be totally prepared or can he just step in during the post-season as he did last year.

-- Andreas Lilja had his four-game scoring streak stopped. You know, the guy is having a very good season. I know I'm leading with my chin on that one.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Look for Helm to go back to GR soon

Darren Helm's stay in Detroit won't likely last long. He was told that he'd just be with the Red Wings for one game, but general manager Ken Holland said that he'd re-assess when Dan Cleary's (scratched cornea) status for Friday is clearer.

"I don't think I'll be here too long," said Helm, who drove to Detroit last night. "But it's another good opportunity."

Cleary practiced today and said that a Friday return is possible. Cleary's vision in his left eye is back to 20-50 after being 20-200.

"If it can get down to 20-30 or something like that, I should be good to go," said Cleary.

The Red Wings front office wants the 21-year-old to play and play a lot of hockey. With coming back and Tomas Holmstrom coming back in a couple of weeks, Helm won't get that opportunity in Detroit.

"Even if (Helm) plays four minutes a night (rather than sits in the press box), I'm not happy," said general manager Ken Holland. "I want him to play hockey."

"If I'm not playing, then it would probably be better for me to be in GR like I have been," said Helm. "I have a chance to play tonight, so obviously it's what I want to be doing now."

Holland said that the reason for swapping Helm and Darren McCarty today was that the team is coming off a western road trip and into a three-game-in-four-night stretch.

"We need energy," said Holland.

Helm recalled, McCarty to GR

Darren Helm is on the ice right now at the Wings' morning skate and it looks like he'll play tonight against Montreal. To make cap room for Helm, Darren McCarty was assigned to Grand Rapids.

Helm, 21, was second on the Griffins in scoring with 18 points in 16 games (5-13--18). The recall marks Helm’s second stint with the Wings this year as he appeared in two games in October (vs. the NY Rangers and Vancouver).

"We've been on the road a lot," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "When you come back home, there's a lack of energy. Helmer can really fly and he gives us four (forward) units. I didn't do a good enough job playing enough people in Vancouver and this gives us more balance. We'll be able to skate better."

McCarty, 36, has netted one goal and has 25 PIMs in 13 games with the Wings this season. McCarty will be available to make his 2008-09 Griffins debut tonight when the team hosts the Manchester Monarchs at 7 p.m.

Here are the lines that the Red Wings are working out of ...



Conklin (starts)

Also of note, both Chris Chelios (broken leg) and Dan Cleary (scratched cornea) are practicing with the team this morning.

The Wings also recalled left wing Randall Gelech, who was then reassigned to the Rochester Americans of the American Hockey League

Gelech, 26, had two penalty minutes and a minus-1 rating through five games with Grand Rapids this season. He has totaled 75 games with the Griffins since the start of the 2007-08 campaign, tallying 15 points (7-8—15) and 39 PIM.

With Gelech often being a healthy scratch in Grand Rapids this season, sending him to Rochester is a cost-cutting measure for the Red Wings getting rid of a 24-year-old veteran who doesn't have much chance at making the Detroit roster.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Red Wings' two-man disadvantage

If it is goal scoring that you enjoy, then don't stray from the television set when there's a 5-on-3 power play. Not during a Detroit Red Wings game at least.

A big component of why the Red Wings have had bloated scores this season -- Detroit leads the NHL in goals scored per game and has allowed the ninth most goals against per game -- has been 5-on-3 play.

Obviously, more goals are scored with a two-man advantage than with a one-man advantage or at even strength. But during 5-on-3s, no team comes close to the pinball action and goal-light flashing that happens at Red Wings games.

Entering Thursday night's game in Edmonton (9 p.m, FSN), there have been 10 5-on-3 goals scored during Red Wings games this season -- four by Detroit and six by opponents. That's double the next highest total of five (Buffalo). The league average is 2.6 combined 5-on-3 goals for and against.

"We take too many penalties," said Detroit coach Mike Babcock. "Stop taking penalties. To me, that's focus."

The Red Wings are the second least penalized team in the NHL. But Babcock's point is valid when it comes to penalties taken while short-handed. Detroit has had to defend a 5-on-3 11 times in 17 games while being on a two-man advantage just eight times.

"There are more 5-on-3s," said Andreas Lilja, who partners with Nicklas Lidstrom on Detroit's top short-handed unit. "You think like that as a player, 'OK, I can get away with a little bit more when I'm short-handed.' But this year, they don't care if you're 4-on-5, 3-on-5, 3-on-6, they'll call a penalty. If it's a penalty, they'll call it."

The lengths of two-man advantages are part of the problem. In a 7-6 loss to Pittsburgh last week, Johan Franzen preceded Valtteri Filppula to the penalty box by just six seconds. The Red Wings weathered the first 1:13 of the 1:54 of 5-on-3 time with Sidney Crosby -- the 2007 Hart Trophy winner -- and Evgeni Malkin -- a 2008 Hart finalist -- firing away. But finally Malkin found the back of the net.

"Five-on-threes are normally like 20 seconds," said Babcock. "We killed the first 1:13, didn't we? We were unbelievable. How long are you going to give Crosby and Malkin the chance to fire away?"

Last season, the Red Wings allowed seven 5-on-3 goals in 82 regular-season games. That figure is up to six in the first 17 games of this season.

Statistically, the problem isn't an either/or situation. The Red Wings are spending more time killing off 5-on-3 power plays and they've been less effective in those situations.

This season, the Red Wings are fourth worst in the NHL in 5-on-3 goals allowed per 60 minutes of ice time (40.6) and sixth worst in 5-on-3 shots allowed per 60 minutes (121.8), according to

All of last season, the Red Wings had to kill off 15.1 minutes of 5-on-3 time, but had a two-man advantage for 27.3 minutes. This season, the Red Wings have already been on the wrong side of 5-on-3s for 8.9 minutes and been on the right side for 8.0 minutes.

Short-handed more often and worse at short-handed defense.

"Of course you hope that you can play better," said Henrik Zetterberg, who is the first option at forward for Detroit defending 5-on-3s. "But they always put their best players out there on a two-man advantage. They should score. But I think also, some of them we could have had. They will create some good chances. You have to make a big save or a big block to get out of it."

Thoughts on Game 17 (4-0 win over Edmonton)

-- Good for Brett Lebda. After starting the season as a minus-9 (and not being on the ice for an even-strength goal scored), then being benched, Lebda is back on track. He was not only a plus-1 again against Edmonton, he got the plus-1 by earning it. Nice play to jump on the loose puck and use his speed through the zone and making a nice pass to Mikael Samuelsson in the slot.

By the way, what horrible defense by Edmonton. No one challenges Lebda. No one covers Samuelsson. Johan Franzen's fourth goal was like that too. He skated by two flat-footed Oilers, then put the puck in from an angle which Dwayne Roloson should never have allowed.

-- Darren McCarty can still fight. He's not a heavyweight, but he's getting the job done and I never would have thought he could when he joined the club last spring. He clearly beat Zack Stortini, Monday night, making it two fights in a row that he's won. Aaron Downey is a better fighter, but McCarty is a better hockey player, more skilled, more positionally sound. Again, I never would have thought it last spring. McCarty has turned me into a fan.

-- I thought this was Ty Conklin's best game of what has been a very good season so far. Conklin was under control all night. He didn't have a lot of tough stops to make, but you got the feeling like he would have made them last night had the challenge been there.

-- An Oilers blog, Cult of Hockey, has an interesting breakdown on the game ...

-- The Griff line of Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Tomas Kopecky was flying. They had their best game of the season. Hudler's goal was important and Kopecky driving to the net was a big part of that. But overall, they forechecked well and won battles.

-- I thought that Marian Hossa was by far the best player on the ice. He was constantly a danger that the Oilers had to deal with. He had a team-high six shots on goal, had another four that missed the mark and two more that were blocked. Unfortunately, nothing went in for the Datsyuk line.

I got to pick the three stars of the game and really wanted to give one to Hossa. But the Zetterberg line scored two goals, the Filppula line scored one, the second power-play unit netted one and Conklin puts up a shutout. No room for Hossa without any results from his charged play.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Cleary back at JLA

Dan Cleary was back at Joe Louis Arena today and spoke with the media after an off-ice workout. Cleary has missed the past nine days with a scratched cornea. The injury has been listed as an eye infection, but Cleary said that's incorrect. His left eye -- which was scratched earlier this season -- was scratched again. He first felt the effects of the second scratch last Monday.

"This is the first day I've been able to open it and keep it open ... Is it open now?" said Cleary. "This is the best it's been. ... There's been a lot of pain in the eye. It almost hurts just to keep it open. It closes on its own. I've just been sleeping a lot. I haven't done anything, to be honest with you."

Cleary first felt the effects of the first cornea scratch six weeks ago. The medication he was taking to help in the latter stages of the first cornea scratch became inflammatory when used for the fresh undiscovered second scratch. That caused a setback. Neither the first nor the second scratch happened while skating.

"It was healing," said Cleary. "In order to heal the vision, you've got to use steroid drops. The steroids are the worst thing for the scratch. What's good for one thing is bad for the other. Right now, my eye is healing, but my vision is suffering. After the scratch heals, I can go after the vision. You can't heal both at the same time."

Cleary's eye looks remarkably bad, very cloudy, very red. Today was the first day that he was able to do off-ice workouts. He said he's hoping for a return on Thanksgiving week.

"I have everything going bad for me in order to get a scratch," said Cleary. "I sleep with my eyes open a little bit. I don't blink fully. I have dry eyes. There's lots of things we're going to do once this heals and get the vision better this week."

General manager Ken Holland said that the team isn't going to put Cleary on the Long-Term Injured Reserve to free up salary cap space for another forward. A player has to be out for 10 games on the LTIR.

"We've got enough players here," said Holland.

Red Wings' Monday morning skate

Chris Chelios (broken leg) was on the ice for a twirl on his own before practice, but left when the drills began. No sign of Dan Cleary (eye infection) for the ninth straight day.

The Wings are working out of the same lines they used the past game and two periods ...


Meech (healthy scratch)

Conklin (starts)

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Cleary out at least another week

Dan Cleary (eye infection) hasn't skated with the Red Wings in over a week. Now the news out of Joe Louis Arena from The Macomb Daily's Chuck Pleiness is that Cleary won't be making the trip through Western Canada and will miss games in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver. That means that the next possible game that Cleary could play would be Nov. 26 against Montreal.

Not good news, but not something that the Wings can't handle. Doesn't this seem to be much more of a long-term injury than anyone expected. And if it's an eye infection, why isn't Cleary working out, skating before team practices? What's stopping that? Is this a condition more serious than it sounds?

At least we're not being told it's an upper-body injury.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Conklin to get second straight start Monday

Coach Mike Babcock said right after tonight's win that Ty Conklin will start again, Monday -- the first time this season that the No. 2 netminder will get back-to-back starts. Asked why, Babcock answered, "Because I want him to." Babcock later termed the second start a reward for Conklin's performance.

Incidentally, Conklin's wife, Erika, will give birth to the couple's third child tomorrow. For a week, the Conklins will have three kids under the age of 3.

Friday's morning skates

It was an optional for the Red Wings this morning with only a handful of players on the ice. Coach Mike Babcock said afterwards that he didn't know right now whether he'd revert to the forward lines that opened last night's win in Tampa or stick with the units that he used in the second and third periods.

Here are the two options ...



Ty Conklin will start in net.

On the Panthers' side, here are the lines they worked out of this morning ...



Anderson (starts)

Campbell (hip flexor) will be a game-time decision, according to Coach Peter DeBoer.

Lilja back in Florida

The message to Andreas Lilja was this: "You might not want to buy a new car."

On the phone was Dave Taylor, the general manager of Lilja's team in November, 2002, the Los Angeles Kings. Lilja took Taylor's call while car shopping. Taylor had called to say that he had just traded Lilja to the Florida Panthers.

"It's was pretty tough because that was my first trade," said Lilja. "It felt kind of weird. My wife was pretty devastated. We were living in L.A. and she liked it. She wasn't expecting it. I wasn't expecting it."

As Lilja returns to southeastern Florida today as a Detroit Red Wing for his team's game against the host Panthers tonight (7:30 p.m., FSN), there aren't many familiar faces left in the Panthers' locker room. Stephen Weiss. Jay Bouwmeester. Nathan Horton.

Other than that, there aren't many holdovers from Lilja's two years in Florida.

The memory, however, of his first game as a Panther is vivid. For that contest, Lilja didn't have to travel cross-country, just down the hall. Lilja's first game as a Panther was against his former team, the Kings, in Los Angeles.

"It was really weird," said Lilja. "But it was fun too. I think it was one of my best games. I was running people left and right."

Back in Lilja's native Sweden, trades are uncommon. If a player is transferred from one club to another, it's most likely that the reason was something personal like lack of playing time or conflict with the coach, according to Lilja. Trades are rarely made to shift personnel in the hope of improving a roster.

Back in the fall of 2002, Lilja was playing on the Kings' top defense pairing alongside Mattias Norstrom. At that point, Lilja had a 45-game NHL career. He went on to play 135 games in just under two seasons with the Panthers.

After moving across the nation, Lilja said the adjustment to a new locker room didn't take long.

"It goes pretty quick," said Lilja, who signed as a free agent with Detroit after the lockout ended in 2005. "We're all used to it, used to seeing new people. It's different around here (in Detroit). On other teams, you're used to seeing a couple of new guys every year, other guys disappear. You get used to it."

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Thoughts on Game 15 (4-3 win in Tampa)

-- Coach Mike Babcock shuffled his forward lines in the last two periods. He put Zetterberg-Samuelsson-Franzen back together. He also reunited the Griffins line of Hudler-Kopecky-Filppula and the Grind Line of Maltby-Draper-McCarty. Not sure if he's going to keep those lines for Friday's game against the Panthers.

-- Chris Osgood is 17-0-0 all-time against Tampa Bay. But Babcock wasn't impressed with win No. 17.

"I think Ozzie would thank his teammates tonight," said Babcock. "Ozzie bails us out some nights. We bailed him out tonight."

It looked like Ozzie was unscreened on the game's first goal -- a Mark Recchi shot -- and didn't bail out his teammates on Matt Pettinger's late goal.

-- What a great short-handed shift by Kirk Maltby five minutes into the second period. Maltby not only pinned the Lightning in their own zone single-handed, he also skated out from the corner alone after winning a battle with three Lightning.

-- That flurry of power plays in the last half of the second period was sparked by Zetterberg. Z drew three Tampa Bay penalties in a seven-minute span, including the rarity of drawing one penalty then another during the delayed call.

-- Good line by Babcock afterwards, joking that so many Red Wings jerseys in the crowd threw off the Detroit players ... "I thought the thing that threw us off in the first period is we came out and the bottom bowl was filled with Red Wings' fans. You know how we've been at home this year. We thought we had a home game. That threw us right off."

More comments on the Red Wings' slow start ... "That was a terrible first period," said Zetterberg. "We didn't play good at all. We came back in the second and started to play good again." ... "In the first period, we didn't play the way we were supposed to. Babs (Babcock) came in (to the locker room) and made sure we knew that," said Tomas Kopecky.

-- Brett Lebda was finally on the ice for an even-strength goal scored -- Johan Franzen's goal halfway through the third. Lebda has been on the ice for nine goals against this season. With just 10:24 of ice time, including no special teams time, Lebda clearly isn't in Babcock's good graces yet.

-- The Lightning had an odd pattern of matching up lines in the first two periods. They matched up forwards with Detroit's forward lines, not defense tandems. The Lecavalier line was always out against the Datsyuk line, but the Tampa blue line was shuffled. Prospal's line matched up against Zetterberg's. The Stamkos line matched up against Draper's.

Thursday morning skates

Nothing new today in Tampa. The Red Wings are sticking with the same lines they've been using for tonight's game against the Lighting with Brett Lebda back in and Derek Meech out ...


Meech (healthy scratch)

Osgood (starts)

The Lightning had an optional skate this morning. Here are there potential line combinations for tonight ...

Prospal-Lecavalier-St. Louis



Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Numbers game

When reporters entered the Red Wings' locker room after today's practice, Brian Rafalski looked over at the man to his right, Nicklas Lidstrom, and announced, "Lidstrom passed Cheli on the all-time scoring list."

With two assists, Tuesday, Lidstrom has 949 career points. Chelios has 948. Lidstrom is now ninth on the NHL's all-time scoring list for defensemen, nine points behind Larry Robinson.

Chelios won't soon be gaining on Lidstrom. The veteran has been sidelined all season with a fractured leg.

"I told Cheli I couldn't wait for him," joked Lidstrom.

Ray Bourque is the NHL's all-time leading scorer among defensemen with 1,579 points.

Return of Lebda

UPDATE: Coach Mike Babcock just confirmed after practice that Lebda is back in the lineup alongside Lilja for tomorrow's game and Meech will be a healthy scratch.

"One way to look at it if you're Meech is say, 'This is pretty unfair, why am I out'," said Babcock. "Well, I'm just changing. If I had another forward ..."

Also, Osgood will start in net in Tampa.


The Wings are working with the same lines they used in last night's loss to Pittsburgh ...



The early indicator is that Brett Lebda will be back in the lineup Thursday night in Tampa with Derek Meech a healthy scratch. Meech is slotted as the seventh defenseman at practice today, working in with the other pairings.

Still no Cleary

UPDATE 2: Coach Mike Babcock said that Dan Cleary won't make the trip to Florida and is out of the lineup for the next two games. Cleary's eye infection is something that has bothered him since training camp. According to Babcock, the initial treatment worsened Cleary's problem and a different course is now being taken.


UPDATE: General manager Ken Holland just said that Cleary's status is day-to-day right now. He doesn't know if Cleary will be making the two-game Florida trip. Holland also said that "We've got him seeing eye specialists."

Cleary could be back in the lineup tomorrow night. What's nagging on most everyone's mind right now is that Cleary complained of blurry vision earlier this season, hasn't been on the ice for four days and that Coach Mike Babcock called his Monday absence a personal day but 24 hours later Cleary was at the doctor. All red flags, but hopefully that's all they are and Cleary will be back soon.


The Red Wings just started their Wednesday practice before flying out to Tampa and Dan Cleary isn't on the ice. Cleary hasn't been with the team for the past four days, missing the past three days of practice. (Sunday was an off day.) Coach Mike Babcock said yesterday that Cleary had an eye infection and was at the doctor.

Hopefully there will be an update after practice with something concrete about when Cleary will be back with the team.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Thoughts on Game 14 (7-6 overtime loss to Pittsburgh)

Such an unusual game that you have to forget about it. Let's see if the Red Wings make a habit of giving up third-period leads or Datsyuk being stripped of the puck from behind or of Lidstrom losing the puck in his feet in the slot.

What does concern me about this game more than the freaky way the Wings lost it is that it adds to the pile of sub-Red Wing defensive efforts this season. What concerns me is 47 goals allowed through 14 games. Since 1994-95, the Red Wings allowed four or more goals in approximately 21 percent of their games, varying season-to-season from 16 to 27 percent. This year, the Red Wings have allowed four or more goals in 43 percent of their games.

At the same time, since 94-95 the Red Wings have limited opponents to two or fewer goals in roughly 58 percent of their games. This season, that's down to 29 percent. Cause for concern.

-- The Wings allowed their sixth 5-on-3 goal against. No other team has allowed more than three. Last season, the Wings allowed seven such goals all year. The season before that, eight allowed. Not sure why so many 5-on-3s against this year, but that's skewing the PK stats. Only seven 5-on-4 goals allowed this season.

-- Jiri Hudler had a very good game. Pavel Datsyuk did not.

-- Pittsburgh's Rob Scuderi got hurt blocking a Nicklas Lidstrom slap shot. So many times, you see players turn when blocking a shot. When they go down to block, you sometimes see players turn onto their stomachs instead of stacking their shin pads. I don't get it. Isn't the protection still mostly in the front? Why do players turn as Scuderi turned his legs?

-- Henrik Zetterberg clearly has a secondary role right now. It's an interesting dynamic to follow this season -- a contract year for Z. It's not that Zetterberg doesn't get plenty of opportunity or that he's not centering a scoring line. But Zetterberg is the No. 2 center behind Datsyuk. Would you rather have Hossa and Homer as your wings every night or a mix of Hudler, Samuelsson, Filppula or Cleary? When the Wings have a power play tonight that bridged two periods, the Datsyuk line was on the ice at the end of one period, then was put back out at the start of the next period, keeping Zetterberg on the bench.

I have a lot of respect for Zetterberg for doing this. But I still wonder if he'll do it all season long.

Homer and the Professor

DETROIT -- Some things Igor Larionov said changed his former road roommate, Tomas Holmstrom. Some things didn't.

Holmstrom watched the highlights of Larionov's induction ceremony at the Hockey Hall of Fame, Monday night, bringing back memories of his teammate on three Stanley Cup teams.

"I never saw him eat any bad food; He always took care of his body," said Holmstrom, who is 13 years Larionov's junior. "At night, I'd want hot chocolate and a sandwich. He was, 'No, eat a fruit plate instead.' I like to eat a little bit. A fruit plate doesn't do it for me."

Fittingly, the first thing that Larionov did after getting the call, June 17, saying that he was selected for the Hockey Hall of Fame was to do his daily 45-minute swim workout. Only after that was finished did Larionov call his family.

Growing up in Sweden, Holmstrom was a fan of the old Soviet Union national team, getting to watch some games from tournaments like the World Championships and the Olympics on television.

In the 1980s, the Soviets' top forward line was the KLM line, centered by Larionov. Holmstrom met winger Vladimir Krutov when the Russian played in the Swedish Elite League. He got an autograph from Sergei Makarov -- Holmstrom's favorite of the trio -- when Makarov played for the San Jose Sharks.

But Holmstrom got something priceless from Larionov as the Professor's teammate and roommate … hockey advice from a future hall of famer.

"I was fortunate to play with him; he taught me lots of stuff," said Holmstrom. "Never throw the puck away. He always used to say, 'If you have the puck, you decide what's going to happen. You dictate the game.' I try to do that. I tell the younger guys, 'Never throw the puck away. You dictate the game.' That was Igor. Show me a clip of him dumping the puck. I don't think you could one on Youtube."

Penguins' Tuesday morning skate

Here are the lines that the Pens are working with on the ice right now ...



Fleury (starts)

No Cleary

UPDATE: Coach Mike Babcock just said after practice that Dan Cleary has an eye infection and is having it checked out by a doctor today. He complained of vision problems earlier this season, but no word on whether his current ailment is related or a new problem.

Cleary will not be in the lineup tonight. That bumps Jiri Hudler up to the third line and keeps Darren McCarty in the lineup.


The Red Wings are on the ice for their morning skate right now. Dan Cleary, however, is absent. Coach Mike Babcock said yesterday that Cleary took Monday's practice off for personal reasons and would be a game-time decision for tonight. It also appears that Johan Franzen will make his return from a knee sprain that kept him out five games.

Here's the way the Wings are practicing ...


Lebda (healthy scratch)

Osgood (starts)

Ice Time Effectiveness

There's enough weight to this season so far to pull out the ice time effectiveness stat. The following numbers are the number of goals for which individual players are on the ice. If you factor in the amount of ice time logged by players, you can get a number of goals per 60 minutes of ice time that translates to the score of an NHL game. At even strength, forwards are ranked by GF/60 and defensemen are ranked by GA/60.

Forwards, GF-GA, GF/60-GA/60
13-4, 4.5-1.4
8-7, 4.3-3.8
12-5, 3.9-1.6
9-4, 3.5-1.6
9-8, 3.4-3.0
28-28, 2.7-2.7

7-7, 2.5-2.5
7-9, 2.4-3.1
6-9, 2.3-3.4
5-9, 2.2-3.9
3-4, 1.6-2.1
2-2, 1.3-1.3
2-8, 0.9-3.8
0-2, 0.0-3.9

Defensemen, GF-GA, GF/60-GA/60
4-5, 1.7-2.1
9-8, 2.6-2.3
12-9, 3.1-2.3
28-28, 2.7-2.7

14-11, 3.8-3.0
3-3, 3.0-3.0
14-13, 3.8-3.5
0-9, 0.0-3.9

Forwards, GF, GF/60
12, 17.9
11, 16.8
11, 15.8
1, 14.0
17, 13.8
6, 13.1
3, 11.5
5, 9.6
2, 7.5

Defensemen, GF, GF/60
7, 15.3
11, 14.0
17, 13.8
10, 13.4
6, 12.4

Forwards, GA, GA/60
1, 1.8
1, 2.4
1, 2.9
2, 3.6
1, 5.9
4, 7.1
12, 7.1
2, 12.7
7, 14.4

Defensemen, GA, GA/60
3, 4.0
2, 5.7
12, 7.1
6, 9.5
6, 9.8
12, 11.8

A couple of quick notes ...
-- The short-handed stats are out of whack because of the great number of goals allowed on 5-on-3. The NHL really should separate special teams stats between 5-on-4 and 5-on-3. Lidstrom was on the ice for four 5-on-3 goals against. Kronwall and Zetterberg were on the ice for three. Datsyuk and Lilja for one, apiece.
-- At even strength, there are five forwards who are producing above-average offense and it's just the five you'd think: Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Hossa, Zetterberg and Franzen.
-- Franzen is on his way to a special season if he stays healthy.
-- Lilja is having a very good start to the season. In the past two seasons, his GF and GA stats have both been high which was surprising given he's a defense-first defenseman. This year, his stats reflect his reputation, low GF and GA.
-- The Red Wings have two full PP units that have both been excellent, thus the No. 1 rating in the NHL.
-- Lebda's start has been horrible. On the ice for 0 ESGF and 9 ESGA. Very unusual stat. And it's not his partners' fault because there's no other defenseman near Lebda's stats.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Game of inches

Tomas Holmstrom's business address has moved. The Red Wing forward who is a net-front master has positioned himself a few inches further away from the goalie this season.

"I'm watching more this year," said Holmstrom, who was called several times for goaltender interference last season. "When I have time, I'm looking down, making sure I'm outside of the crease so they can't make a call."

Franzenstein scares TVs

DETROIT -- Johan Franzen will be back in the Detroit Red Wings' lineup soon.

That's good news if you're a Red Wings fan. That's great news if you're a television set.

"It drives you crazy not playing," said Franzen. "I can't watch games. I hate it. I get so frustrated sitting … I want to throw the TV every game. There's a bad penalty or something, I want to be on the ice yelling."

Saturday night's game against New Jersey was the fifth straight game of fear for television sets. Franzen was put on the shelf, Oct. 25, by a knee-on-knee collision with Brent Sopel in Chicago.

At first, the injury looked severe with Franzen being helped off the ice and flown back to Detroit for tests while his teammates flew west on a road trip. Franzen's knee, however, was just sprained -- a much better fate than ligament damage, which could sideline an athlete for six months.

It had been two weeks to the day after the injury, yesterday, and Franzen was just off the ice, having pushed his knee hard for an hour's worth of practice. Afterwards, Franzen said that his knee has responded well.

Franzen believes that he could return to the lineup for either Tuesday's home game against Pittsburgh or Thursday's game in Tampa.

When Franzen returns, one forward will be bumped from the lineup with Darren McCarty a possibility. Putting Franzen back on the second line will mean that either Valtteri Filppula or Mikael Samuelsson will drop down to the third line.

And a return will be welcomed by Franzen, who has a machine other than televisions that he isn't fond of … exercise bikes.

"In a game, you work as hard as you can without thinking about it," said Franzen. "You can't get that on a bike because you can't push yourself as hard. You don't think about on the ice. All you do is think on the bike. When you play hockey, you want to stay out there. When you're on the bike, you want to get off."

In other words, no athlete has ever said, "Put me back on the bike, coach."

Thoughts on Game 13 (3-1 win over New Jersey)

-- That Chris Osgood save on Patrick Elias' shot is as good as you'll see this year. Total reach-back. Total swat out of midair with the stick.

-- Speaking of superlatives, that Darren McCarty fight with David Clarkson is about as long of a fight as you'll see this year. The linesmen asked, but neither McCarty nor Clarkson wanted the bout stopped. I wonder if Johan Franzen's imminent return has anything to do with McCarty's recent fights.

I've always thought that left-handers like McCarty have a slight fighting advantage. Life forces them to be more capable with their off-hand than are most righties. McCarty, like most lefties, throws well with either hand and switched effectively against Clarkson.

-- When Zach Parise was by the side of the Detroit net, banging at a rebound, it was Pavel Datsyuk who knocked Parise on his backside. Datsyuk isn't looked at as a physical player by many, but Pavel does use his body and he is one of the strongest players on the ice. In last spring's playoffs, Datsyuk was second to Brad Stuart in hits, ninth overall in the league.

-- Derek Meech's contact with Brian Gionta had an unfortunate result with the Devil crashing hard into the boards shoulder-first. But the play did display Meech's ability to be physical as well. He's not big, but he's such a good skater with such good balance.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Not so even

The Red Wings' one disappointment this season has been even-strength defense. Obviously it's early and correctable, but the numbers show the Red Wings' difficulties ...

Even-strength goals for per 60 minutes
07-08 2.65
08-09 2.63

Even-strength goals against per 60 minutes
07-08 1.78
08-09 2.83

Power-play goals for per 60 minutes
07-08 8.07
09-09 15.29

Short-handed goals allowed per 60 minutes
07-08 5.92
08-09 7.51

The special teams numbers offset themselves. If the power play wasn't so good right now, the penalty-kill would be a bigger concern.

But at even-strength, the Red Wings have been outscored 27-25 this season.

Franzen progressing well

Johan Franzen (sprained knee) participated in all of the morning skate drills, then stayed on the ice for another half-hour with Brett Lebda working out. Franzen said afterwards that his knee felt the best that it has since the injury. Franzen said that he'll be back in the lineup either Tuesday or Thursday if he doesn't have any setbacks before then.

Red Wings' Saturday morning skate

No surprises this morning. Here's the lines for tonight's game against New Jersey ...




Lebda (scratch)

New Jersey will not have a morning skate today.

Brodeur numbers

A few numbers to put in perspective what New Jersey goalie Martin Brodeur has done over his career and how much Red Wings fans won't miss him in tonight's game at Joe Louis Arena ...

Since taking over in net for the Devils in his sophomore season of 1995, Brodeur has played in 927 of New Jersey's 1042 regular-season games. Pro-rated, that's 73 games per 82-game season. In the history of the NHL, only 16 times has there been a season with more than 73 games played for a goalie not named Martin Brodeur.

Also, Brodeur, who is seven wins behind Patrick Roy for the all-time lead and five shutouts behind Terry Sawchuk for that career record, has posted six of the top 20 single-season wins totals including the record of 48 (set in 2006-07).

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Wednesday's practice

One good sign -- Johan Franzen (sprained knee) took part in the early non-contact drills before heading back to the locker room. UPDATE: Coach Mike Babcock said after practice that Franzen will likely miss at least the next two games.

The Red Wings worked out of the same lines as they did yesterday. It looks like Brett Lebda is definitely going to be scratched, Saturday.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Lebda likely a scratch again

Coach Mike Babcock said that defenseman Brett Lebda will likely be a healthy scratch again, Saturday, but that he's still very much in the blue-line mix.

So why the healthy scratch?

"Minus-9," said Babcock. "Let's make this clear ... Lebs has been outstanding for us for three years. Hasn't gone as good (this year). (He) gets a little reminder here. He's a real good player, a very important part of our team. It's important that his confidence doesn't suffer any from this. He just gets reminded how hard it is and how much fun it is to play. Sometimes we all need to be reminded. That's why I got married. My wife reminds me every day."

Lidstrom has sore elbow

Nicklas Lidstrom was speaking with a doctor after practice today, having him look at his right elbow. The elbow is sore and has been that was "on and off for the half-year or so" according to Lidstrom. The discomfort, however, isn't enough to keep Lidstrom out of the lineup.

"It bugs me a little bit," said Lidstrom. "Nothing severe."

Cheli, Mule back on the ice

Both Chris Chelios (fractured leg) and Johan Franzen (sprained knee) skated before practice, today. For both, it was their first skate since being injured. It's a step forward, but neither will be back in the lineup soon.

Franzen said that everything felt fine and he's hoping that he's out just 2-3 weeks by the time before he returns to game action. He said that it feels better than it did a year ago when he suffered a similar injury.

"It felt good," said Franzen. "Started slow. I didn't want to risk anything. Long strides."

Chelios said that he was disappointed with his on-ice workout, experiencing pain not right on the fracture but in the surrounding area.

"Cheli said things aren't going very good," said Coach Mike Babcock.

"The fact that I got cleared (to skate) was at least good news," said Chelios. "I really thought I'd be a lot better off today than I (was) because when I was training, I had no pain."

Red Wings back in town

The Red Wings are on the ice for their first practice at Joe Louis Arena since going on a five-game road trip. Here are the lines they're working with ...