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.
|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.
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.”
|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.”
|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
|Brad Stuart scored his fourth goal of the season, and along with Jonathan Ericsson had a team-high four hits in an 8-2 win over the Kings. (Photo by Dave Reginek)|
So it’s easy to see why Stuart was obviously disturbed with Los Angeles center Jarret Stoll late in the third period of the Red Wings’ 8-2 thrashing of the Kings Saturday at Joe Louis Arena.
With the Wings already throttling the Kings by four-goals, Stuart pushed the puck into the offensive zone and uncorked a shot just as he crossed the blue line near the LA bench. A split-second later Stuart was picking himself off the ice after a blind-side hit courtesy of Stoll, which sent the Wings’ defenseman banging into the half wall.
“In my opinion it was a little late,” said Stuart, after the game.
During the following TV timeout, Stuart skated over to referee Dean Morton to voice is displeasure with the hit and the fact that nothing was called. “I could have been wrong, 6-2 or 7-2 game,” Stuart said, “I got a little bit angry about it, but it happens.”
As hockey justice would have it, Stuart got the last laugh though when he capped the scoring with a slap shot from the right point.
“Kind of a meaningless goal, but it's nice to score, I guess,” he said. “The game got out of reach at that point; we're just trying to kill the clock off. It's nice to get them, I guess.”
With two more goals by Wings’ defensemen Saturday – Niklas Kronwall also scored – Detroit has a league-best 24 goals scored by members of its defensive unit.
“It's something we don't talk about or think about,” said Stuart, who has four goals and two assists this season. “I take more pride being in the top 10 in goals against and the penalty kill,. That's what we're focused on more.”
|Ian White played for the first time without a full-face shield this week since suffering a fractured cheekbone last month. (Photo by Getty Images)|
“Doctors told me to wear it for four weeks,” White told DetroitRedWings.com this week. “Just didn’t want to do anymore damage to the cheek in case I was hit.”
White had the clear plastic shield removed from his helmet on Monday. He wore it – per doctors’ orders – to protect his fractured right cheekbone, which he sustained Nov. 23 when he stopped a shot by Dallas Stars leading point-producer Jamie Benn.
The shield couldn’t have been too much of a hindrance for White, who had a goal with five assists and a plus-9 rating while wearing it. But it was still a liberating feeling to skate without it, he said.
“The bars down the sides limited my peripheral vision a bit, and it was difficult at times to see the puck if I lost it at my feet,” he said. “I’m just glad to be done with it.”
The Wings’ 4-1 win Tuesday in Pittsburgh was the first game that White has played without the shield since returning to action on Thanksgiving Eve against Calgary.
Meanwhile, another veteran defenseman began tinkering with a tinted visor this week. On the same day that White dropped his facial protection, Mike Commodore put a visor on his helmet for the first time in more than four years.
“I’m just trying it in practice. I always wondered what a tinted visor was like, so I figured it was time and I fired it on,” said Commodore, who last wore a visor in the 2007 World Championships in Moscow. “It’s actually pretty good. I’ve worn visors before, I had to wear one my whole first year after I took a slap shot in the eye in my ninth game pro.”
|Mike Commodore last wore a visor during the 2007 World Championships in Moscow, Russia (Photo by Getty Images)|
The injury that resulted from the hit nearly finished Commodore’s career before it really began. It was late in October, 2000, and Commodore, who was a promising young New Jersey prospect playing in his first month with the now-defunct Albany River Rats, was struck in the face by a puck.
Luckily for him, the orbital bone surrounding Commodore’s right eye absorbed the slap shot from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton defenseman Andrew Ference. Despite needing some plastic surgery, Commodore managed to play in 52 more games that season between the NHL and AHL.
“I remember it being more of a pain than this one,” said Commodore, comparing his current visor to the one he wore some 11 years ago. “This one isn’t actually that bad at all.”
With so many of his Red Wings’ teammates already having suffered head and/or facial injuries this season it would be easy to understand Commodore’s desire to don a visor for the third time in his career.
But he said that the injuries to White, Patrick Eaves, Jiri Hudler, Drew Miller and Niklas Kronwall had nothing to do with his decision.
“I’m just trying something. I have lots of practice time and I’m trying something new, that’s all,” Commodore said. “If someone hit me in a game, it might carve up my nose a little bit, but you can fix your nose, not your eyes.”
As for the gray tinting, Commodore explained it this way, “I don’t know, if I’m going to try a visor I might as well go all the way. I always wondered what it was like to play with one of the tinted ones. Looking at those guys I was wondering if they could see, obviously they can, but I just wanted to give it a try.”
For the first time in more than a month, an opponent scored an even-strength goal against the Red Wings in the first period of a game.
Winnipeg center Bryan Little needed just 35-seconds at the start of Saturday’s game to score his 10th goal of the season, and put a halt to the Wings’ impressive streak.
It was the first time that the Wings surrendered a first-period goal in 10 games – dating to Mike Richards’ short-hander in Los Angeles on Nov. 19 – and the first even-strength tally in 17 games, going back to when Lee Stempniak gave the Calgary Flames a 1-0 lead on Nov. 3.
The Wings have allowed a league-low 13 first-period goals through 28 games. The New York Rangers are second with 15 goals in 26 games.
For the Jets, Little’s goal gave Winnipeg 34 first-period markers, which is second-most in the NHL, just one behind the Philadelphia Flyers.
The Wings’ first-periods performances is a remarkable turnaround from last season when they were among the worst defensive teams in the first period, giving up 84 goals in the opening 20-minutes – trailing just Columbus (86) and Colorado (91).
|Darren Helm is excited for the chance to play in front of his hometown family and friends next season in Winnipeg.|
He was just nine-years-old when the Jets last played there, then moved south to Phoenix after the Red Wings eliminated them in the first round of the 1996 Stanley Cup playoffs.
The Jets moved from Atlanta this season, and Saturday night the Winnipeg Jets return to Joe Louis Arena for its first regular-season game in Detroit since April 10, 1996.
And of course, Helm, who used to attend Jets’ home games with his youth teams, and sold 50/50 raffle tickets on the arena concourse with teammates and parents, is excited for the chance to soon play before family and friends back home.
With realignment set to begin next season, the Jets and Wings will be in the same eight-team conference, meaning that they will face each other at least five times each season with 2-3 games being in Manitoba.
“It'll be nice. When they come here it’s no big deal, but going there is going to be nice,” Helm said. “I can play in front of my family instead of having them come all the way here to watch a game. It's going to be nice to have them leave the house half and hour before the game, come down; get some time off, go home and get some home-cooked meals.”
The excitement for the Jets is overwhelming, and why not? Heading into Saturday’s game, Winnipeg has a 13-11-4 record and one-point out of the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
“Most of the team out there I've talked to are pretty happy about it,” Helm said. “My friends and family pay a lot more attention to the Wings, I don't think they care as much. But there's a lot of people I grew-up with are real excited, pretty pumped about getting chance to cheer for a hometown team.”
|Pavel Datsyuk had two assists before he left the game Thursday with a lower-body injury. (Photo by Greg Shamus)|
“I think that was one of better periods we played in a long time,” said Todd Bertuzzi, who got the scoring started with his second goal of the season. “I think we were on them, made some great plays and scored a lot of goals.”
It was the Wings’ first five-goal opening period outburst since they jumped on the Edmonton Oilers at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 7, 2009. Detroit won that game, 8-3.
Besides Bertuzzi, the Wings got first-period goals by Valtteri Filppula, Tomas Holmstrom, Darren Helm and Jiri Hudler.
The win snapped a two-game losing streak for the Wings, owners of the league’s best home record at 11-2-1 this season.
“It's a good win for our team and a good bounce back,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Anytime you lose two in a row you want to bounce back right away. I thought our big players were really skating.''
Wings center Pavel Datsyuk left the game early with a lower-body injury and did not return.
“He left early, we knew he was a bit sore going into the game, didn't get sore or anything like that,” Babcock said. “He'll be fine. We'll probably give him tomorrow off and go from there.”