|Center Pavel Datsyuk leads all Red Wings with 69 career points against the St. Louis Blues. (Photo by Getty Images)|
ST. LOUIS – In a league that stresses the importance of divisional matchups, it only stands to reason that players’ statistical performances would be better against regional rivals than those outside of the division.
However, it’s interesting to note that nearly 40 percent of the Red Wings’ current 23-man roster has stockpiled more points against the Blues than their other Central Division foes.
Led by star center Pavel Datsyuk, nine different Wings’ players have produced some of their career best statistical numbers against St. Louis. Datsyuk, who is 10 goals shy from becoming the 11th player in franchise history to reach 250 goals in his career, has produced 69 points, including 22 goals in 58 games against the Blues.
Even better, Datsyuk seems to enjoy playing in St. Louis. It’s here, at Scottrade Center, that he’s collected more road assists (26) and points (36) than any other building in the league. His plus-21 rating at Scottrade is also a career-best.
Newly-minted team captain Henrik Zetterberg also seems to enjoy playing the Blues, producing his highest totals against them with 22 goals, 37 assists and 59 points.
Others to amass career highs against St. Louis are forwards Johan Franzen (14 goals), Daniel Cleary (29 points), Valtteri Filppula (11 goals, 19 points), Jordin Tootoo (six goals, 14 points), and Justin Abdelkader (six points), and defenseman Niklas Kronwall (24 points).
Goalie Jimmy Howard, who gets the start tonight in St. Louis, has 10 career wins against the Blues, which is his career best against any NHL teams.
|Former Red Wings forward Mike Knuble (29), who has worked out with the team during the shortened training camp, was signed to a 25-day PTO on Friday. (Photo by Dave Reginek)|
DETROIT – The Red Wings made their final roster moves Friday afternoon before heading to St. Louis where they will begin the 2013 season against the Blues at Scottrade Center on Saturday night.
Coach Mike Babcock said that defenseman Brian Lashoff has been returned to the club’s AHL-affiliate in Grand Rapids, and 40-year-old veteran forward Mike Knuble has agreed to a 25-day professional tryout (PTO).
“It’s a PTO, it gives me the flexibility to decide what I’m going to do versus signing a two-way contract, where you’re stuck with one team,” Knuble said. “It gives you a better chance to be open to everybody.”
With the compressed NHL schedule, teams certainly will suffer injuries along the way, and that’s where an experienced player like Knuble may greatly be a benefit.
“It’s going to be a crazy year,” Knuble said. “Guys are going to be dropping. They’re going to find young guys can’t handle the grind, they’re not ready. You stay with it, two weeks in, you should see how this whole year is going to shape out. Teams are in trouble already.”
Knuble will head to the Wings’ minor-league team in Grand Rapids, where he’ll continue to prepare physically should Detroit, or another NHL club need his services.
At 6-foot-3 and 230-pounds, Knuble is still agile enough and he could still wind up in the NHL this season. The former Red Wing – the last member from the 1997 Stanley Cup squad still playing pro hockey – has logged 1,040 NHL games spanning 15 seasons with five different clubs.
But he was realistic about his chances of starting with the Wings this week, especially without an exhibition season to properly audition for the coaching staff.
“I didn’t think I had any crazy illusions of something happening here this week,” Knuble said. “It is what it is. It gives me the chance to play and get back in the frame of playing again. And you get your name out there that you’re active.”
If things don’t go as he hopes, Friday could very well have been Knuble’s final skate at Joe Louis Arena. At one point during the practice, Knuble took a look toward the rafters where 11 Stanley Cup banners hang from the ceiling.
Asked if he was soaking in the moment, Knuble chuckled and said, “I like to be dramatic like that, but I wasn’t. I was probably just staring off into space for some reason.”
“You know I’ve played here a lot,” said Knuble, who played 41 NHL games at JLA. “I think the first time I player here in this building I might have been 12-years-old playing in front of these empty seats in the Little Caesars Hockey League, so I played a lot of hockey through the course of the years in this building. It has a distinct feel when you walk in, a distinct smell, something that I’ll always remember.”
|The Red Wings will look to have forward Johan Franzen handle the net-front responsibilities on the power play this season. (Photo by Dave Reginek)|
Obviously, neither is going to make anyone forget the valuable contributes made by Nicklas Lidstrom and net-front guru Tomas Holmstrom over two decades, but the Red Wings, who finished in the bottom third of the league in power-play efficiency, believe they have experiences players who can adequately man those positions.
Holmstrom made a living out of parking himself in front of the crease and tipping 100 mile-per-hour slap shots from the blue line behind opposing goalies. Franzen, who learned from the league’s best, is no slouch either.
“I’ve been doing it on and off for the past four or five years, so I’ve been working on it all that time, too,” he said. “I’ve been watching Homer and worked on different things with him after practices, so it’s not a big difference for me. I’m used to doing that part.”
Now, the power play’s deficiencies haven’t necessarily hurt the Red Wings in the past, after all, Detroit has finished among the top four league teams in 5-on-5 scoring over the last two seasons.
Still, with a compressed schedule, scoring, no matter how teams get it, will be important.
“It would be a good thing to have a good power play,” Franzen said. “It always helps to be good at special teams.”
Lidstrom and Holmstrom will definitely be missed, coach Mike Babcock said, but there’s no sense in dwelling over something that can’t be controlled.
“Mule, net-front, is as good as anybody,” he said. “Mule has been waiting to be out on the first unit since he got here. He thinks he should be. We think he should be too. So it’s a natural fit.
“Kronner is a hell of a player, but I’m not trying to tell you that he’s Nick Lidstrom. So I don’t know what we do about that.”
|Veteran forward Mike Knuble is trying out for a roster spot with the Red Wings. He began his NHL career with Detroit, scoring eight goals with six assists from 1996-98. (Photo by Dave Reginek)|
PLYMOUTH, Mich. – Mike Knuble’s hockey world came full circle Sunday morning when he slipped on a Red Wings’ jersey for the first time since he was drafted by Detroit more than 20 years ago.
And just like last time, the East Kentwood, Mich., native is a long-shot to make the Red Wings’ roster this time around.
“It seems like every time I’m in here, the odds are against me,” said Knuble who was invited to the Red Wings’ training camp on a professional tryout. “You come out here and you’re thankful for the opportunity. You could be sitting at home. I know a few guys who are sitting at home right now. When you’re sitting at home and the league is going on without you, it’s not a good thing.”
Knuble played the last three seasons in Washington, but things didn’t go as the veteran forward would have liked. He produced six goals in 72 games for the Capitals last season.
In order to make the Wings’ roster, he’ll have to do so as a fourth liner, beating out Cory Emmerton or Jan Mursak. But if things don’t work out with the Wings, the 40-year-old winger believes the compressed NHL schedule will present opportunities elsewhere.
“The bottom line is you can show people how you’re playing and show that you might be an option down the line,” said Knuble, who won a Stanley Cup with the Wings in 1998. “I think you’re really going to need depth guys this year. With guys going from absolutely stop to 100 percent, there’s going to be guys dropping. You’re definitely going to have to go get help. Where they go get it from is going to be determined.”
But without preseason games to showcase what he has left in the tank, Knuble knows the odds are against him, especially on a Wings’ team with so much up-front depth.
“You’ve got to see how this plays out,” he said. “All you can do is show them what you can do in a week.”
|Red Wings forward Cory Emmerton (left) battles defenseman Ian White for the puck this week at Troy Sports Center. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)|
TROY, Mich. – Red Wings forward Cory Emmerton hasn’t been in the league long enough to have played in every NHL building. But of the 21 rinks he has played in since making his NHL debut two years ago this month, there’s nothing better than 20,000 hockey-crazed fans at The Joe.
“The Joe is my favorite place to play with all of the history that it has and all of the great players who have played there and the fans just seem to live with every second of the game,” Emmerton said. “It’s a great place to play and I’m just excited to get back there.”
Emmerton has been part of a small group of Red Wings players who have participated in informal skates at the Troy Sports Center during the lockout, which was finally settled last Sunday after 113-days of labor unrest.
The abbreviated season schedule won’t be known before the players’ association ratifies the new collective bargaining agreement this Saturday. Emmerton said when the season does start and the Red Wings return to Joe Louis Arena for the opener, he’ll be elated
“It’s going to be awesome,” he said. “Obviously it’s been a long time. Skating here in an empty rink – while it’s fun to be here – it’s a whole different feeling when we have the fans like we do here in Detroit.”
Of the 30 current NHL arenas, 25 are less than 20-years-old. The Joe, which opened in 1979, is the fourth oldest building in the league, after Madison Square Garden (1968), Nassau Coliseum (1972) and Rexall Place (1974).
Still, Emmerton, who grew-up outside of London, Ontario, prefers the advantages of playing in comfortable confines of JLA.
“It’s got that classic feel of a rink,” Emmerton said. “Obviously, the newer rinks are amazing and all of the technology and the amenities that they have. But when you’re at The Joe, it feels like you’re there for one reason. You’re there to watch a hockey game and to get the experience to see it in a pretty historic rink that has been around for a long time.”
|Ian White enjoyed a career year last season, playing along side Nicklas Lidstrom. White finished with a plus-23 in 77 games for the Red Wings. (Photo by Getty Images)|
TROY, Mich. – Last season Ian White finished among the top 10 plus-minus defensemen in the league. Certainly, having a future hall-of-famer for a defense partner, helped in White’s achievement as he produced a career-best plus-23 in 77 games.
Prior to his arrive in Detroit last season, White had logged more than 400 NHL games while playing along side such partners as Luke Richardson, Hall Gill, Robyn Regehr and Niclas Wallin.
But last preseason, when White learned that he drew the big straw and would be paired with Nicklas Lidstrom, the former Maple Leafs’ draft pick said that he was, “Probably the luckiest guy in the hockey world,” for having received such an assignment.
But time will tell what’s in store for the eight-year pro and the Red Wings, who enter the abbreviated 2013 season without Lidstrom, one of the league’s all-time best at his craft.
In June, the seven-time Norris Trophy winner announced that he was retiring after 20 seasons in the National Hockey League.
“It’s going to be a lot different,” White said, following Monday’s informal player skate at Troy Sports Center. “Playing with arguably the best defenseman of all-time, it was quite a thrill to have a chance to play with him, quite an honor.”
The Red Wings also lost veteran blueliner Brad Stuart, who signed with San Jose during the offseason, leaving White as the most-experienced NHL defensemen on Detroit’s roster.
“I thought we worked well together, had some big chemistry right from the start,” White said of Lidstrom. “I’ve been used to playing with new guys fairly often, we’ll see who I get to play with.”
As for now, it’s expected that the Wings will have seven defensemen – including Carlo Colaiacovo, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Niklas Kronwall, Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith – ready for the shortened training camp, which some web site reports have indicated will begin between Saturday and Monday.
Because of the shortened season, White believes that player health and team depth will be crucial components to the Wings’ success.
“We've been skating pretty good for the last few months and that’s probably the best way to avoid injury,” he said. “You look at the NBA when they started last year … I heard lots of guys were getting hurt there just from playing so often and not getting much time for their bones and muscles to heal, so that is definitely going to be an issue. … Hopefully nothing major happens.”
|Big Rapids coach Tim Blashill|
DETROIT – Former Red Wings assistant coach Jeff Blashill hopes that a change of scenery could be a good thing for his younger brother and the Big Rapids hockey team.
Seeking their first win of the season, the Cardinals, coached by Tim Blashill, will face-off against Cadillac in a non-conference high school game this afternoon at Joe Louis Arena. The game is the first of four prep contests at JLA this week.
The eight teams were originally scheduled to play outdoors at Comerica Park as part of this month’s Winter Festival, which was cancelled by the ongoing NHL lockout.
“I’m real excited for Tim and certainly for his players,” said Jeff Blashill, now the head coach of the Grand Rapids Griffins. “For his players to hit the ice at Joe Louis and for Tim to be behind the bench at Joe Louis is special.”
Tim Blashill, 36, is no stranger to hockey and to the Big Rapids community. He served six seasons as a volunteer assistant coach at the college in town, Ferris State University, where he worked with his big brother before Jeff departed for greener pastures at Miami University in Ohio. Tim is in his eighth season behind the Cardinals’ bench.
The brothers remain close through a love of hockey and their coaching careers, and it’s not unusual to see Jeff Blashill at Big Rapids games. He was at the first meeting this season, a 3-1 Cadillac win last month in what has become a tradition in the two northern Michigan communities. The annual Thanksgiving Eve game has grown into the 131 Cup Challenge – named for the stretch of U.S. Highway that connects the two small towns.
“I was up at the game this year when they played Cadillac; it didn’t go Big Rapids’ way, but I’ve been at the game when it has gone their way in the past,” Jeff said. “There’s a lot of emotion involved and it’s a real heated rivalry.”
The Blashills both played collegiate hockey; Jeff was a goalie at Ferris and Tim played defense at Fredonia (N.Y.) State. A 1994 graduate of Sault Ste. Marie (Mich.) High School, he was a three-sport star in football, baseball and hockey, where he received Most Valuable Defenseman accolades in his senior season.
“The thing with Tim is that he was a tough hockey player, who was a very well-liked team guy,” said Jeff, who is three years old than his younger brother. “I think he has a great demeanor with the players. He’s in charge, but I believe his players enjoy playing for him. It’s great for a high school program and he’s certainly well-suited for that.”
Aside from the Detroit Catholic High School League championships last year, prep games are a rarity at The Joe, which will make Wednesday’s game extraordinary for several young men and their coach.
“I remember the first opportunity that I had to be behind the bench at The Joe,” Jeff Blashill said. “I was with Miami and it’s just a tremendous feeling and Tim and his players will certainly cherish that moment.”
|Darby Wright, the goalie for Bourdow's Hockey Shop in Saginaw, makes a save on former Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios during the inaugural Grind Line Challenge at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)|
DETROIT – Darby Wright was still breathing heavy as he sat in the Red Wings’ locker room following a spirited 4-on-4 pick-up game against a small army of former pros. But through the goalie’s graying beard was the hint of a youthful smile that said he was glad to have experienced the challenge as one of the average Joes.
Wright and his Bourdow’s Hockey Shop teammates from Saginaw, Mich., visited Joe Louis Arena this week to take on some former Red Wings in the inaugural Grind Line Challenge. Despite losing, 20-9, to their hockey idols, Wright was still thrilled to have been a part of it.
Through his elevated heart rate, Wright was kind enough to answer a few questions about facing slap shots from Kris Draper, Chris Chelios, Larry Murphy, Dino Ciccarelli, Kirk Maltby, Darren McCarty and Joey Kocur.
QUESTION: What was it like to play against the Grind Line?
WRIGHT: “It was such a great time. It was just so awesome.”
Q. Were you a big fan of the Wings when all these guys were playing?
Wright: “Oh yeah. I grew up watching (John) Ogrodnick, (Petr) Klima, all those guys, and then obviously I loved watching these guys during the glory years.”
Q. So does this bring back any memories of those glory years for you?
Wright: “Oh sure. Just to be out there on the ice, this was the first time I’ve ever been on the ice at The Joe and it’s huge. It’s not like the rink we come from.”
Q. Who did you enjoy playing against most?
Wright: “Being a goalie, I’m a Chris Osgood fan and he’s a great guy.”
Q. Who was the toughest guy to stop?
Wright: “Gotta be Draper. He shoots the biscuit.”
Q. As fans of the Wings, what does it mean to you guys to come out and play here?
Wright: “We’ve been playing together for about 20 years and this was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We’ve been geeked up for it for about two months so it’s been a lot of fun.”
Q. Did any of you guys ever play minor league hockey or pro anywhere?
Wright: “Bill Miller played in the ECHL, and we had one guy play in the USHL, but most of the guys played college hockey.”
Q. How about you? Did you play anywhere?
Wright: “Nope, just a little junior hockey that’s about it.”
Q. Looks like they worked you pretty good out there, huh?
Wright: “Oh yeah, I probably won’t be able to walk for a month.”
Q. But you had fun, right?
Wright: “Oh yeah. It was a great time, like I said it was just a once-in-a-lifetime experience.”
|Some Red Wings alumni gathered at Joe Louis Arena on Tuesday where they accepted a 4-on-4 challenge from a group of players from Saginaw, Mich. (Photo by Dan Mannes/Detroit Red Wings)|
DETROIT – It was the Red Wings’ version of Pros vs. Joes.
A collection of Wings alumni – who together scored more than 1,500 goals in over 8,300 NHL games – took on a group of challengers with eclectic skills Tuesday afternoon at Joe Louis Arena.
Kris Draper and his former infamous linemates accepted the first of five Grind Line Challenges this year from a group of friends, who drove from Saginaw, Mich., for a round of 4-on-4 hockey.
“It was good,” Draper said. “I mean, you look around the room and we’re breathing heavy, and we’re sweating, too. Obviously, we’re out to have fun and to have a good time, but bottom line: We’re not losing.”
Though it’s been a few years since the pros were competing for higher stakes, they certainly attacked Tuesday’s challenge with the same vigor as they trounced Bourdow’s Hockey Shop, 20-9.
Joining Draper and the Grind Liners – Joey Kocur, Kirk Maltby and Darren McCarty – were Wings’ legends Chris Osgood, Chris Chelios, Larry Murphy and Dino Ciccarelli. All eight alumni have committed to play in the Alumni Showdown against the Toronto Maple Leafs alumni, which is scheduled for Dec. 30 at Comerica Park.
“How can you not have fun with the guys that we had out there? It was awesome,” Draper said. “To be able to skate with these guys again, Dino, Murph, Cheli, obviously Ozzie, Mac and Malts, and Joey, we just had a real good crew and it was great that everyone could make it.”
For Draper, Tuesday’s tune-up was just the second time that he’s played in a winged-wheel jersey since May 12, 2011.
|Grind Line Challenge
“I played in one alumni game and that was it,” said Draper, who is one of six players to play in 1,000 games for the Detroit franchise. “So, basically since Game 7 of my last game in San Jose that’s the second time that I’ve had the fully equipment on.”
|It was time for a jersey number down-grade for Cory Emmerton, who will now wear the number once worn by Darren McCarty. (Photo by Bill Roose/Detroit Red Wings)|
DETROIT – Cory Emmerton’s plate was full enough last season to make such an insignificant request. Or so he figured.
“At the time when you make the team the last thing that you’re thinking about is changing your number,” said Emmerton, who’s been assigned No. 48 since the Red Wings drafted the St. Thomas, Ontario, native in the second-round of the 2006 NHL draft.
After last season, Emmerton approached Paul Boyer and asked the team’s equipment manager if he could switch his jersey number to No. 25, which he wore during OHL stops in Kingston and Brampton.
Whether it’s superstitious, or not, Emmerton fared quite well with 25 at the junior level, producing 97 goals and 255 points in four OHL seasons. However, it was by accident that Emmerton became enamored by the number. As a first-year junior with the Frontenacs in 2004-05, the only numbers left to choose were in the 20s.
“I wore 2 (growing up) and 25 was open and I was looking for something in the 20s,” he said. “I kind of became fond of it as I began to wear it and it grew on me.”
Emmerton, who is the third player ever to don 48 in Wings’ history, is now the 31st to sport 25, and the first since Darren McCarty.
“Now I’m going to have to start playing like him to keep that tradition going,” Emmerton said of McCarty’s aggressive reputation. “Obviously, everyone was a Grind Line fan, whoever watched them play. They were fun to watch. I had the pleasure of playing with him in Grand Rapids when he was down the one year for a while, so I got to know him as a person and as a player, too. Obviously, it’s easy for me to say that I’m a big McCarty fan as a whole.”
Now that he’s changed the number on his back, Emmerton will likely change his Twitter handle, which currently includes his old jersey digit. But he’ll do so knowing that the switch may draw grief from an old teammate.
“Yeah, I expect that, it just comes with the territory of knowing (Mike) Commodore,” he said. “He’s going to give you grief for anything that he can.”