POSTED ON Monday, 01.09.2012 / 3:57 PM
It took nearly half of the season for the Red Wings and Chicago Blackhawks to finally meet head-to-head for the first time on the 2011-12 calendar.
But as the second half of the season gets underway Tuesday in New York, it’s easy for the Wings to overlook the Islanders – Tuesday’s opponent – and look ahead to the remaining four Central Division clashes with the Blackhawks, who pay a visit to Joe Louis Arena this Saturday afternoon.
It was only a few months ago that some pundits heaped piles of dirt on the grave when the Wings muddled through a 0-5-1 dead stretch. Yet with their stunning overtime comeback win Sunday at United Center, the Wings shook the dirt off and jumped into virtual three-way first-place tie with Chicago and St. Louis for the division lead.
Since losing a sixth straight on Nov. 3, Detroit has had an incredible resurgence, posting a 21-9-0 mark and ascending to the second-best record in the Western Conference, just two-points behind front-running Vancouver.
For the sixth time in the Mike Babcock era, the Wings have compiled 53-points, or more, in the first half of a season. The only time the Wings didn’t meet that first-half points standard was 2009-10 – the only time they finished out of first-place in the division in 11 seasons.
The Wings have rallied around a retooled top forward line with center Pavel Daystuk surrounded by wingers Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi, and they’ve benefited from the sharp contributions of Jimmy Howard, who is having a career year and leads all NHL goalies with 24 wins.
Certainly, the Wings have had some hiccups with ugly losses at Washington and Columbus, as well as a pre-Christmas collapse at Nashville. But when backup Ty Conklin does what he did Sunday – stopping 29 shots, including a penalty shot by Blackhawks rookie Jimmy Hayes – confidence can begin to swell in the locker room, particularly down the home stretch of the season.
With a look toward the final months of the regular-season, the last 13 weeks provide a friendly path for the Wings, who have 18 road games remaining, and just half of those in time zones that are two or three hours behind Detroit. That means 32 games will be played in the Eastern or Central Time Zones, making travel simpler for the players and start times more agreeable to weary-eyed fans.
The Wings also get 13 games left against some teams that have struggled in the first-half of the season and are currently either at .500 or below it in the standings, including games against Montreal, Edmonton, Anaheim, and four more with Columbus, who dismissed its coach Monday.
League general managers like to use 95-points as the barometer for teams making the playoffs. The Wings, Blackhawks and Blues need 42 points to reach the magic number. While the Central Division trio, along with Vancouver and San Jose seem distant for the playoffs, that leaves seven teams – Nashville, Minnesota, Colorado, Calgary, Dallas, Los Angeles, and Phoenix – to battle for the final three berths.
And against these foes seeking a playoff berth, the Wings are 10-5-1 this season while out-scoring them, 55-34.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill
POSTED ON Friday, 01.06.2012 / 8:30 AM
Forget, for just a second, that Nicklas Lidstrom is a highly-touted pro hockey player, and that he’s won four Stanley Cup titles and seven Norris Trophies.
He’s also one of the most-decorated and loved athletes in Detroit sports history with a résumé that’s second to none outside of Joe Louis Arena.
And while he has had his recognition, locally – appearing once as grand marshal at America’s Thanksgiving Parade and driving a pace car at Michigan International Speedway – when it comes to being the face of the NHL, Lidstrom has taken a back seat.
If you haven’t seen it, Lidstrom, Anaheim forward Corey Perry and one deceased cephalopod appear together in a new TV commercial for Honda about passionate fans.
Filming for the commercial was shot in mid-November – during the Red Wings’ three-game road trip to California – outside of the Los Angeles Sports Arena.
“It took a whole night, it was a lot of shooting,” Lidstrom said. “You think it will be quicker, but everything from lighting to being in the right spots to saying the right things and walking the right steps, everything. It took a lot longer than I anticipated.”
Lidstrom was approached about the car commercial during training camp by his agent.
“I didn’t know the extent of it, but, sure, it sounded like a fun thing to do,” he said. “And when they explained briefly what it was that we would be doing, I thought it was a fun thing to try out.”
While the filming took all night, Lidstrom assured us that only one octopus was used on the windshield of the Honda Pilot.
“That in itself took probably an hour just to make sure it got to the right spot and was sliding down slowly,” Lidstrom said. “I believe they only used the one, but I think they were toying around with it to make it slide down and stick on the windshield.”
POSTED ON Wednesday, 01.04.2012 / 4:54 PM
|Czech goalie, and Red Wings prospect, Petr Mrazek, celebrated a 5-2 upset win over Team USA. Mrazek was drafted by the Wings in the fifth-round in 2010. (Photo by Getty Images)|
However, after the 19-year-old turned aside 52 shots in a 5-2 upset win over the Americans, it’s probably safe to say that Mrazek’s name won’t be forgotten anytime soon.
One Canadian scribe even wrote that Mrazek’s outing against Team USA, “will go down as one of the greatest goalie performances ever witnessed in this tournament. … Mrazek’s spectacular saves and colorful celebrations have won over a lot of fans here in Edmonton over the last week.”
With the 141st pick in the 2010 NHL draft, the Wings selected the 6-foot-1 goalie, now in his third and final Ontario Hockey League season with the Ottawa 67’s. He turn pro next fall with the Wings’ minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids next season.
But for now, whether or not Mrazek is the Wings’ heir apparent between the pipes, time will only tell. Yet for him to perform as miraculously as he did – and on such a big international stage – is quite impressive.
Prior to Thursday night’s consolation game against Slovakia, Mrazek had posted a 2-3 record with a 2.59 goals-against average, a .926 save percentage and a shutout victory over Denmark.
Mrazek has been so good that even in defeat the Czech goalie has earned Best Player of the Game recognition in losses to Canada (5-0) and Russia (2-1).
Besides Mrazek, the Wings have four other drafted prospects playing in the tournament, including Finland’s Teemu Pulkkinen and Slovakia’s Tomas Jurco. Both forwards are at the top of the tournament scoring list with Pulkkinen compiling six goals and four assists and Jurco collecting a goal and seven assists.
Jurco’s Slovakian teammate, Marek Tvrdon, has three goals and an assist in the tourney, while Swedish defenseman Mattias Backman has three assists and is a plus-5. Jurco, Tvrdon and Backman were all drafted by the Wings last summer in St. Paul, Minn.
After Mrazek’s performance last Friday, Joe McDonnell, the Wings’ director of amateur scouting, was elated, telling the Edmonton Journal, “When you have guys playing in the tournament, you hope that they show well and (Mrazek) was outstanding today. Actually, he was great every game he’s played in so far.”
Through 29 games with Ottawa, Mrazek is 16-7-4 with a 3.01 GAA and .909 save percentage.
POSTED ON Tuesday, 01.03.2012 / 12:15 PM
|Pete Mahovlich (above) and his brother Frank, played together with the Red Wings during the 1968-69 season.|
“Yeah, it’s an exciting time for me and for him,” Jamie Benn told the Stars’ website. “You always dream of playing in the NHL since you were little and to get to play your first one with your brother is pretty cool. I think I’m more excited than him.”
While it’s not all that common for brothers to play together on the same NHL team, betcha didn’t know that the Red Wings have had eight different sets of brothers – at one time or another – play together, including the Maholviches and Wilsons?
In all, 15 sibling sets have worn the Wings’ uniform dating back to the second season of the franchise’s existence when forwards Frank and Johnny Sheppard played four games together with the Detroit Cougars during the 1927-28 campaign.
Since then, there have been more than 500 Wings’ games that have featured brothers in the lineup together. But none since March 30, 1969 – that’s when Frank and Pete Maholvich played together for the last time in a Wings' lineup during a 9-5 season-finale loss at Chicago Stadium.
The last tandem formed to join the Wings’ brotherhood was when enforcer Chris McRae joined the organization two years after his older brother Basil was traded to Quebec in 1987.
The Wings’ other sibling teammates were Des and Earl Roche (1934-35); Hec, Ken and Wally Kilrea (1934-40); Ed and Mud Bruneteau (1940-46); Nikina and Winky Smith (1943-44); Don and Rod Morrison (1947-48); and Larry and Johnny Wilson (1949-50).
The brothers to play for the Wings, but not together include Cully and Thain Simon; Bud and Don Polie; Charlie and Roy Conacher; Barry and Ray Cullen; Fred and Howie Glover; and Bryan and Dennis Hextall.
Scott and Rob Niedermayer (2003 Anaheim) and Brent and Duane Sutter (1983 NY Islanders) are probably the most famous hockey brothers to win the Stanley Cup together, but the Wings have had two sets of brothers also win the Cup as teammates: the Bruneteau brothers, from St. Boniface, Manitoba, helped the Wings to the 1943 championship, while the Wilson brothers paced Detroit to a title run in 1950.
POSTED ON Sunday, 01.01.2012 / 6:08 PM
|Ryan Sproul was one of three second-round draft picks that went to the Wings last June. He's out indefinitely with a broken jaw.|
The Wings have had no fewer than seven players suffer facial injuries that have required at least some amount of stitches to close sizeable cuts this season. Unfortunately, defenseman Ian White (cheekbone) and forward Patrick Eaves (jaw) had greater damage done when they were struck in the face by fast-moving pucks.
Eaves even had his jaw wired and hasn’t played since Nov. 26.
But such devastating injuries haven’t been limited to the organization’s parent club this season.
Last week, 18-year-old defenseman Ryan Sproul, a Wings’ second-round draft pick last June, had a plate surgically inserted into his fractured jaw a day after he was hit by a deflected puck during an Ontario Hockey League game at Sault Ste. Marie's Essar Centre.
According to The Sault Star, Sproul was injured last Wednesday with 3:52 to go in regulation. He left the ice immediately, and spent the night at Sault Area Hospital.
Sproul’s parents, Phil and Paulette, were at the game, and Thursday morning they drove their son home to Mississauga, Ontario, where he underwent surgery later that day.
Unable to speak, Sproul took to his Twitter account (@sproully93), where Friday he provided the following update: “Just got up here at the hospital. Not feelin so good and my mouth is jammed shut.”
The pain associated with a broken jaw is excruciating and even more of a nuisance if the patient has allergies, like Danny Cleary, who had his jaws wired in Feb. 2008 after he was hit in the face during a game in Toronto.
In order to take his allergy medicine, Cleary’s wife, Jelena, used to crush his pills into powder and put it in his meals, which he sucked through a straw. Not sure if Sproul has allergies, but we know he's not yet able to use a straw, writing Sunday: “I can't stand being starved and can't have anything but soup through a syringe when my family is eating an unreal breakfast.”
Before his injury, the 6-foot-3 Sproul was the Greyhounds’ top scoring defenseman, netting 10 goals with 16 assists and a team-best plus-17 rating in 37 games.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill
POSTED ON Thursday, 12.29.2011 / 5:50 PM
It’s hard to imagine that the Red Wings and the Blackhawks have played a combined 73 games already this season – without playing one another.
The Wings were bound for the Windy City Thursday afternoon where they will finally face the Blackhawks for the first time this season. Friday’s game at the United Center will mark the first time in league history that the two clubs have gone this late into a season without facing one another.
The Western Conference-leading Blackhawks are three-points ahead of the Wings, who like Chicago, has 23 wins on the season.
The last time the two Central Division teams went this long before their first head-to-head meeting since league expansion – was Dec. 8, 1998 – a 3-2 win for Detroit at Joe Louis Arena. In all, Friday’s contest is just the sixth first-time meeting in December for these two rivals (when there wasn't a league disruption), and the first in Chicago.
To make up for lost time, the Wings and Hawks will see each other three times over the next 10 days. The final three meetings of the season series comes in the form of single games in February, March and April.
Over the last five seasons, the Wings are 10-4-1 with seven one-goal victories at Chicago.
Prior to Friday, the Wings have played every Western Conference team, at least once, with the exception of the Blackhawks, this season.
POSTED ON Wednesday, 12.28.2011 / 7:26 PM
|Joakim Andersson's No. 63 jersey hung in his dressing room stall at Joe Louis Arena prior to Tuesday's game against St. Louis. (Photo by Bill Roose)|
Each player was the first Wing to wear a jersey number in his respective numerical range.
In this, the 86th season of Wings’ hockey, Andersson is the first player to choose a jersey number in the 60s, which was the final frontier in the franchise’s numerology.
The 22-year-old Andersson made his NHL debut in Tuesday’s 3-2 win over the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena.
Historically in the NHL, starting goalies used to wear No. 1, while backup goalies wore No. 30, and the skaters wore everything in-between. However, that wasn’t the case for Detroit’s first team in 1926. That season goalie Hap Holmes wore No. 1 and his backup Herb Stuart donned No. 14.
It wasn’t until 39-years later that the Wings added a No. 30 to the roster when Bassen made the switch from No. 25 in 1965. Thirteen years later, the Wings signed Vachon away from the Los Angeles Kings. He played in Detroit for one season (1978-79), and wore No. 40 just that once during a 16-season NHL career.
Since Vachon, 33 different Wings have worn numbers in the 40s with the exception of No. 49, the only unclaimed number in that range. Currently, there are 12 Wings’ players assigned numbers in the 40s and above.
Now that the Wings have six retired numbers – honoring Terry Sawchuk (1); Ted Lindsay (7); Gordie Howe (9); Alex Delvecchio (10); Sid Abel (12); and Steve Yzerman (19) – higher numbers have become commonplace up through No. 96, popularized by Tomas Holmstrom, who originally wore No. 15 until he made the switch in 1997.
Still, the lower numbers seem to be more popular among Wings' players, with Andersson becoming just the 24th player to don a number higher than 50 in the last 27 years. And it was in the mid-80s, and for varying reasons, when Williams (55), Smith (72) and Klima (85) were the first Wings to wear numbers in the 50s, 70s and 80s.
Prior to 1984-85, the Wings acquired Williams from Vancouver, where he wore No. 22, just like he had previously done in Toronto. But when he got to Detroit, future hall-of-fame defenseman Brad Park was wearing 22, so Williams settled on 55.
Smith split five seasons with the Wings and their Adirondack farm club and was assigned four different numbers in Detroit, ending with No. 72 when he was recalled for the 1984-85 season finale in St. Louis. In that game, a 6-5 overtime loss, Smith scored and had a fight with Blues defenseman Dwight Schofield.
But Klima had perhaps the most meaningful reason for selecting a jersey number. His number paid tribute to his successful defection with the help of the Wings’ organization, to the U.S. in Sept. 1985. A grateful Klima requested the number, which he wore throughout his career as a reminder of his freedom.
In 1990, Fedorov became the second player in NHL history to sport No. 91, and the first since the New York Islanders’ Butch Goring did so 10 years earlier.
And in case you were wondering, the Wings still have 34 unclaimed numbers – all between 49 and 98. There would be 35 numbers, but the NHL retired No. 99 league-wide when it honored Wayne Gretzky.
POSTED ON Monday, 12.26.2011 / 9:33 PM
The Red Wings hope to receive some good news on the injury front this week, when they get updates on forwards Jan Mursak and Chris Conner.
Mursak will have his left ankle seen by the team’s medical staff Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena, and if he's cleared, the rookie will go to Grand Rapids for a five-game rehabilitation assignment with the Griffins, who play Wednesday at Lake Erie.
“We're expecting and hoping the doctor will clear Mursak and we expect him to go to Grand Rapids,” general manager Ken Holland said. “If we stay healthy, we'll keep him there for two weeks. If we have injuries, then we're re-assess.”
Prior to the start of the season, it was expected that Mursak would compete for a forward spot on either the third or four lines. But that was before he suffered a fractured ankle in a preseason game in late September.
Meanwhile, Conner was making the most of his call up in early December after forward Patrick Eaves sustained a broken jaw against Nashville. Conner had three points in six games before he fractured a bone in his left hand at Pittsburgh.
Conner, who has practiced while wearing a hard cast on the hand, will see a specialist on Wednesday; however, he might still be a week away from receiving clearance to return.
As for Eaves, who had his jaws surgically wired shut, no timeframe has been set as to when he can resume skating or when he'll be available to return to the lineup.
“He just hasn't been able to do anything,” Holland said. “He's not even working out. There's been no conversations of him even coming back to practice. He hasn't felt good enough to really train. He's a ways away.”
POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 7:55 PM
|Wings forward Chris Conner didn't mind the cameras, that much, during last season's taping of HBO's series "24/7". (Photo by Getty Images)|
It also put him smack dab in the middle of a spotlight he didn’t necessarily want.
Shortly after the Livonia, Mich., native was called up from the minors, TV crews and plenty of their equipment descended upon the Steel City to capture behind-the-scenes footage of the Penguins for HBO’s reality sports series, ‘24/7 Penguins-Capitals: Road to the NHL Winter Classic’.
“I tried to stay away from the cameras a much as possible,” said Conner, who played 60 games for the Pens, but was a healthy scratch for the New Year’s Day at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field. “It was hard because their presence was pretty overwhelming at first. They were at everything, they were constantly around, the meetings they were in with cameras, everywhere. But the longer it went on the easier it became, and everyone adapted to it.”
The four one-hour long episodes featured mostly star players, particular Sidney Crosby and Washington’s Alexander Ovechkin, along with their coaches the Pens’ Dan Bylsma and then-Capitals’ bench boss Bruce Boudreau. But for four long weeks, players, coaches and staff had every move caught on film for the documentary, whether it was used for the series or ended up on the cutting room floor.
“I don’t think I spoke in it,” Conner said. “There were other guys that were in it, but I thought it was great, especially since they gave fans an inside look. It’s pretty accurate, and last year it was pretty wild when the Penguins were on that big winning streak, and at the same time the Capitals were on their big losing streak. You could see both ends and what goes on.”
The cable network captured an Emmy Award for last year’s production. And yes, they are back at it again this fall following the New York Rangers and the Flyers in advance of the 2012 Winter Classic set for Jan. 2 at Citizen’s Bank Park in Philadelphia.
“I didn’t go out of my way to avoid the cameras, but I’m kind of shy to begin with,” Conner said. “Some people love to be in the spotlight, and you could see who really thrived on it. I just went about my business and didn’t do anything extra because the cameras were there.”
POSTED ON Tuesday, 12.20.2011 / 6:31 PM
|Known more for his silky sound than his skating skills, Michael Bublé practiced for a bit with the Canucks before the Red Wings took to the ice at Rogers Arena Tuesday. (Photo by Getty Images)|
But Tuesday morning, big band crooner and British Columbia native Michael Bublé put down his microphone and laced up a pair of skates for the Canucks’ practice Tuesday morning at Rogers Arena.
A lifelong Canucks’ fan, Bublé called the on-ice experience – although quite brief – “the greatest day of my life.”
Bublé is a huge hockey fan, who, along with Red Wings' legend Gordie Howe, is part owner of the WHL’s Vancouver Giants.
The Canucks certainly seemed to get a kick out of having Bublé in the dressing room and cruising around the rink for a short time, and he ever took a shoot-out attempt on veteran goalie Roberto Luongo.
Prior to making his way to the Vancouver dressing room, Bublé, a right-handed shot, signed a "one-day contract" with the Canucks and their general manager Mike Gillis, which probably amounted to an insurance waiver just in case the signing icon would have been injuried.
“He's a big Canucks’ fan and a great ambassador for Canada and for Vancouver,” Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. “When he came in this morning, we gave him the opportunity to go show his skill set and he did. It was good. And I think the boys enjoyed having him in the room, it was a different moment from a busy schedule.”
Ask if the Canucks’ coaching staff had any intentions of using the Grammy Award-winning singer in Wednesday’s lineup against the Red Wings, Vigneault joked, “I’d probably have to see him in a few more practices, a couple of compete drills, stuff like that.”
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @RooseBill