Monthly Archives: March 2010

Meech willing to do what it takes

For now, Derek Meech is a forward for the Detroit Red Wings.

And that’s just fine with him.

Meech, who has struggled throughout his career to find a spot as one of the Wings’ top six defensemen, will dress again tonight as a forward against the Edmonton Oilers, filling in for an injured Dan Cleary.

“I don’t mind playing forward, it’s nice to get in the lineup,” Meech said. “It’s a no brainer. I’d rather be grinding it out on the forecheck rather than grinding it out in the weight room during a game that’s for sure. I’ll be ready to play up front whenever they need me.”

Tonight will mark Meech’s 47th appearance in the lineup this season. He averages just over 12 minutes of ice time.

At practice Monday, he was paired on a line with Patrick Eaves and Darren Helm.

“It’s going to be good working with those guys,” Meech said. “Hopefully we’ll create some offensive chances. They’ve got lots of speed so hopefully I can contribute to that.”

With the Wings right up against the salary cap, playing forward has been something Meech has been asked to do a number of times with Detroit.

“It’s a little different, there are a lot of different spot and assignments you have to be aware of,” Meech said. “It’s a different focus rather than making decisions on defense.”

Meech is a restricted free agent after this season.

“The goal is to play and get an opportunity and stay as consistent as possible,” Meech said. “I’ve had a bit more opportunity to do that than I have the previous few years.

“This summer is basically going take care of itself,” Meech added. “There are a lot of different guys up on contracts so it’s going to be interesting. But I’m not going to worry about that until the time arises.”

Meech said he’d even be willing to switch to forward if that means staying with the organization.

“The ultimate goal is just getting a chance to play,” Meech said. “I’m fortunate to have this opportunity right now.”

Sidelined

Cleary did not practice Monday and will miss his second straight game due to a pulled groin.

Cleary, who re-aggravated the injury on Friday, had an MRI performed and it showed just swelling and fluid, but no torn muscles.

“It felt good when I played Wednesday and it felt good Thursday,” Cleary said. “Friday I played and I knew right away. It started the first two shifts. We’re just going to see how it goes. It’s feeling better each day. Nobody knows until you’re on the ice.”

Cleary plans on skating today and hasn’t ruled out returning Thursday against Columbus.

Blooper reel

Patrick Eaves was still laughing about his stumbling act that occurred Saturday night in Nashville during his shootout attempt.

So were his teammates.

“What happened was pretty awesome and funny,” Eaves smiled. “It was a great reaction from both benches. It made the whole arena laugh. I know I was laughing. I’m sure I’m going to see it again and again.”

As Eaves made a move on Predators goalie Pekka Rinne, he stumbled and fell, failing to get a shot off and then slid into the corner with a big smile on his face.

The smile was what Wings coach Mike Babcock liked to see.

“The best part for me, and the message to kids right there was when he was laying on the ice smiling,” Babcock said. “That’s what life’s about. You get out there and you give it all you got. Sometimes it doesn’t work out. You get up, you have a smile on your face and you get ready to do it again.”
Babcock’s kids also found it very amusing. At his daughter’s bowling fundraiser Sunday for her hockey team, Babcock was asked to rerun the play a number of times.

“I had no trouble doing it,” Babcock said. “He toe-picked on the one foot and then he toe-picked on the second foot. He had him. He pumped faked him good. He might have a torn ego, but he’ll be all right.”
Meech is hoping Eaves’ stumble will make teammates forget about his embarrassing moment that also occurred in Nashville a few years back.

“I think he owes me dinner for that,” Eaves said.

Meech got a pass to the point from Pavel Datsyuk that kind of handcuffed him in the middle. He wound up falling flat on his face on the ice.

“I did a face plant and swung my stick trying to get at the puck,” Meech laughed. “I just remember laughing all the way back to the bench and hearing about it the rest of the year. I saw it on the pre-practice video a couple times.”

Niklas Kronwall scored on the next shootout attempt, which was followed by a save from Jimmy Howard to earn the victory.

“I do a lot of stupid stuff like that, but never on that big of a stage,” Eaves added. “You just have to laugh about it. We ended up winning the game. Fortunately, it didn’t knock Howie off his focus too much.”

In the locker room Monday, Johan Franzen was asked why Darren Helm didn’t shoot next instead of Kronwall.

“After what Eaves did,” Franzen pointed out.

“It was pretty comical,” Todd Bertuzzi said. “It can happen and fortunately he’s a good guy with a good sense of humor. We watched it a handful of times. I don’t think you can repeat that again.”

Oil slick

The Oilers, who have the worst record in the NHL, have had the Wings’ number this season. They’re 3-0 against them this year, winning twice in shootouts and also beating Detroit 4-1 at Joe Louis Arena.

“They beat us like a rented mule,” Babcock said. “They just slap us around every time we play them. We’re usually down two after about six minutes. So we’re hoping they’re going to let us touch the puck tomorrow.”

Second start

Howard, who will make his 23rd consecutive start tonight against Edmonton, was named the NHL’s second star of the week. He went 4-0-0 with a 1.22 goals against average and a .958 save percentage. He also had one shutout.

Ottawa goalie Brian Elliott was named the first star, also going 4-0-0 last week. He had a 1.00 goals against average and a .966 save percentage.

New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk was the third star.

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Miller’s Time

Power Five

1. Washington – Ovechkin voted by players as league’s best (1)

2. San Jose – back in front of Phoenix in Pacific. (3)

3. Phoenix – 8-1-1 in last 10 games. (2)

4. Vancouver – Henrik Sedin leads the league in points. (5)

5. Chicago – gave up 8 goals to Columbus Thursday. (4)

7. Detroit – playoff bound and climbing up the seeding chart. (8)

Once again, the Detroit Red Wings may have found a diamond in the rough.

And because of it, that diamond, Drew Miller, may have finally found a permanent home in the National Hockey League.

With the rash of injuries that decimated the Wings’ roster early in the season, Detroit went out and claimed Miller off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Miller is known as a defensive forward, a good skater and penalty killer. He struggled in his first season in Tampa Bay, registering no points and a minus-3 rating in 14 games, and therefore was placed on waivers.

His NHL career, prior to Detroit, consisted of 67 games, with six goals and nine assists.

On Saturday night, Miller played in his 59th game with the Wings, the most he’s played for any organization in his career. The younger brother of Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller has nine goals and nine assists thus far with Detroit.

“You come in here and they give you an opportunity to play with confidence,” Miller said. “They brought me here and told me to play responsible and play well and build from there my offensive abilities. For me that has created a mindset. I go out there and work hard and I’d be given opportunities.”

Miller, who spent three seasons playing at Michigan State, was drafted in the sixth round of the 2003 NHL Entry Draft by then the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim.

He was named MSU’s MVP in 2005-06 and was selected as the CCHA’s best defensive forward.

“I think it’s a compliment to the player when he brings his game to a new level,” Wings assistant general manager Jim Nill said. “He has certainly done that. Anytime you draft or sign a player you hope they start to max out their ability. I think he’s starting to realize his potential.

“I think he’s found his niche on this team,” Nill added. “Sometimes young players are put in unfair situations where so much is expected of them. That doesn’t allow them time to develop. Mike (Babcock) does a good job of defining their roles and then they start to realize their potential.”

Miller has already reached career highs in a season for goals, assists and shots on goal (83).

“I’ve been impressed with his speed,” Nill said. “We knew he was a good skater. He’s taken his game to a new level. He’s a confident player right now. It’s amazing what confidence can do to a player.”

His emergence seems to be a common thing for journeymen players that find their way to Hockeytown.

Dan Cleary is another example. Cleary became a consistent 40-point a season player since joining the Wings.

“The biggest thing is confidence,” Miller said. “When you have someone that’s confident in themselves you keep building off that confidence and good things happen in your game. That’s what I’m hoping continues to happen for myself and my game.”

Miller had been centering a line with Cleary and Jason Williams.

“You need to first start by being responsible and then move forward from there,” Miller said. “You don’t want to be one type of player. You want to be multidimensional, from killing penalties to fitting in on any line you can. And be on the power play if you have to be. I just go out there and do whatever I can for the team.”

But one has to wonder, had it not been for all the injuries the Wings suffered throughout the year would Miller still somehow find his way on the roster.

“It gave me a chance to play different roles and it gave me more of a chance to gain much more confidence,” Miller said.  “That’s a big thing.

“We survived there when all the guys were hurt,” Miller added. “Now they’re all back. I want to say you’re only as strong as your weakest link, but when you’ve got your third- or fourth-line guys getting experience when those guys were hurt that just makes your team that much stronger.”

Miller is in the final year of his contract and will become a restricted free agent at the end of the year.

A little raise should help keep Miller in town for at least one more season and continue the process of making Detroit his final NHL destination.

Howard gets shaving cream pie for birthday

Jimmy Howard got to taste the tradition in the Wings’ locker room of what happens when you celebrate a birthday.

And it was Kris Draper fulfilling his duties as birthday prankster by shoving a towel full of shaving cream in Howard’s face as he was drinking a Gatorade after the morning skate.

“I knew it was coming,” Howard said. “I had it in the back of my mind and then when I was taking a drink I caught him out of the corner of my eye.

“He was too fast to stop, he came charging,” Howard laughed. “It’s all fun and games. He got me good. He’ll get his. I’ll keep that in the back of my head.”

Howard turned 26.

“I’ve pretty much got everyone in this whole dressing and I knew this was his first time around,” Draper said. “He was just sitting there looking pretty and the opportunity was there so I had to take advantage of it.”

Draper said the only player in the locker room that’s off limits is captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

“Everyone else is fair game,” Draper said.

Draper said he got the same treatment from Kirk Maltby after playing in his 1,000th game.

“He buried me last year,” Draper recalled. “Maybe that’s how he injured his shoulder.”

Penalty killers on goalless run

It’s taboo to talk to a pitcher in the midst of tossing a perfect game or a no hitter.

That’s apparently the same around a hockey locker room where the team’s penalty killers are in the midst of its best goalless run of the season.

Entering play Friday, Detroit’s penalty kill had not allowed a power-play goal in 10 straight games, killing off 26 straight power play chances in that stretch.

“We’re not worried about the streak, we’re just worried about doing things right,” said Patrick Eaves, who returned to the lineup after missing three straight games with a shoulder injury. “There are bigger things going on rather than a PK streak. If we work hard, stick together and talk a lot out there we’ll have success.”

The penalty kill units have actually killed off the last 28 power play opportunities.

“I never realized we had a streak going,” said Darren Helm, who looked for a piece of wood to knock on when asked about the streak. “I think we’re taking a lot less penalties so that helps.

The Wings rotate three units on the penalty kill, but rely heavily on two groups of forwards – Eaves and Helm and Drew Miller and Valtteri Filppula. Henrik Zetterberg and Dan Cleary also rotate in.

Eaves and Helm think the addition of Miller to the PK has really helped solidify the group.

“Maybe he was the missing link,” Eaves said. “With his skating ability, long stick and hockey sense, he’s really helped us out. And I think everyone just got used to each other. That’s how it goes.

“Our defense has been awesome,” Eaves added. “For us, we’re just trying to get in the way.”

“It’s all Drew Miller, our penalty killer specialist,” Helm said. “We were in 17th spot till (Miller) came in. Now look at where we are.”

The Wings’ penalty-kill ranked 10th in the league prior to Friday, killing off 83.8-percent of the power play chances.

“We definitely take pride in it, from our goalie, to our forwards to our defense,” Miller said. “Even the guys that aren’t on it, they realize it and use it as a boost on the power play or the next shift after the kill.

“It’s a big part of our team,” Miller added. “We’re having a lot of success because everyone is buying into it, blocking shots and battling in the corner. We’re just going to keep doing what we’re doing and working hard.”

The Wings went eight straight games earlier this season without allowing a power-play goal, killing off 23 straight chances.

“You’ve got Eaves blocking shots off his arm, his foot, shoulder, leg or whatever,” Miller said. “He’s the best I’ve seen blocking shots. You see him blocking shots and it makes you want to block shots.”

No production line

While the Wings’ second forward line has been red hot of late, the top line has been ice cold.

Pavel Datsyuk has accounted for all the points that line has produced over the last four games – one goal and one assist. Johan Franzen has not scored a goal since March 11, while Tomas Holmstrom scored in March 15.

“Wins are more important,” said Datsyuk, who entered Friday’s game tied for the team lead with 23 goals. “We’ve had chances.”

“The last game we didn’t play that good,” Franzen said. “That’s how it goes sometimes. We’re lucky we’ve got that line going.

No production line part II

Miller centers the Wings’ third line with wingers Dan Cleary and Jason Williams. Cleary road a 10-game goalless streak into Friday’s game with Minnesota, while Williams hadn’t scored in eight straight.

“Miller has been good,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I think Cleary and Williams should spur Cleary and Williams. But that’s a challenge for both guys. In saying that, I think chemistry is a good thing.”

Miller has scored in six games, but has been generating scoring chances every game.

“I don’t think Cleary has played badly,” Babcock said. “I just don’t think the puck hasn’t gone in the net for him. As he skates better he’ll play better.

Doing away with shots to the head

As the Detroit Red Wings prepared for last night’s game with the St. Louis Blues, they had some other business to attend to prior to their morning skate.

On Tuesday night, the league announced that its owners had approved a modified rule to help curb blindside hits to the head.

“The National Hockey League’s Board of Governors unanimously approved a rule prohibiting a lateral, back-pressure or blind-side hit to an opponent where the head is targeted and/or the principal point of contact,” the league stated on their website. “The timing and details of implementation are being worked on by the NHL’s Hockey Operations Department in conjunction with representatives of the National Hockey League Players’ Association.”

Yesterday morning, the Wings got briefed and then watched a DVD that was presented by their union rep, defenseman Brian Rafalski.

“I think everyone is pretty much on board with it,” Rafalski said. “I haven’t heard anybody really say no. I think this is a good thing for the league.”

According to Rafalski, the DVD showed illegal hits from the side and behind and regular hits that were initiated by the shoulder and chest.

“I don’t think this will be a hard transition at all,” Rafalski said. “As long as there’s a review process I have no problem with it. It’s hard for the refs to see something that quick. If there’s any kind of question they can always review it later.”

As of late Wednesday, the league and NHLPA were still trying to iron out details of the rule.

The NHLPA released a statement saying, “We have deliberated and endorsed to the NHLPA Executive Board the League’s proposal to implement supplemental discipline this season for blindside hits to the head. Our Executive Board will vote on this recommendation and we will respond back to the League with a decision in the next 24-48 hours.”

However, according to the league it doesn’t have to wait for the players’ consent to enact a rule, which has been rumored that the league will do as early as last night.

If that happened the NHLPA would more than likely file a grievance.

Shots to the head have been a major focus this season.

Florida’s David Booth missed 45 games after getting hit in the head by Philadelphia’s Mike Richards. Richards did not receive a penalty for that hit, but would under this new rule.

Also, Boston’s Marc Savard suffered a concussion earlier this month after he was blindsided by Pittsburgh’s Matt Cooke. Savard may be sidelined the rest of the season.

“I think it’s necessary, mostly to protect the players,” Wings defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “There are more concussions this year or at least it’s being talked about more. Some of the hits out there I think we can eliminate and protect guys better.”

Kronwall is known for his bone-crushing hits in open ice and along the boards. He’s not worried it will affect his game.

“I think they still like hitting to be in the game,” Kronwall said. “It was pretty clear in the video what you could and couldn’t do. You just have to put yourself in a good spot so you don’t end up hitting someone’s head.”

Kronwall took away from the video that anytime you’re going to hit a player north-and-south and hit them square it shouldn’t be a problem.

Kronwall also said none of his hits were on the DVD. The hits on Booth and Savard were.

“Hits to the head shouldn’t be tolerated,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “The league and the players’ association should stand behind it. I don’t think anyone is trying to take the physicality of the game away one bit, but you’re supposed to hit the guy’s body and not his head. Making sure it’s enforced is critical.”

Cleary, Eaves out against Penguins

Just when the Detroit Red Wings got back to full health, suddenly the injury bug has crept back into the locker room.

Forwards Dan Cleary (groin) and Patrick Eaves (shoulder) both missed their second straight games.

“I’m extremely upset about it,” Cleary said. “This is a critical stretch for us and we’ve been playing good. I hope this is the last game I have to sit.”

Cleary tore his groin during the Stanley Cup last season and played the final three games with it.

Eaves, who was injured in a collision with Edmonton defenseman Aaron Johnson, didn’t skate Monday, but hopes to be back Wednesday.

“It’s getting better every day,” Eaves said. “My upper back is pretty tight muscle wise. And my neck muscles are tight.”

Respecting Sid the Kid

Before coaching Team Canada to the gold medal at the Winter Olympics, Babcock already had an appreciation for Penguin superstar Sidney Crosby.

“When you’re around him you see how competitive he is and how bad he wants to be good,” Babcock said. “That’s all the great players. People talk about talent all the time, but I think it’s all about soul and how bad you really want it all the time.

Read the rest of Chuck’s column, Notebook, at macombdaily.com.

Wings just need to get into playoffs

Power Five

1. Washington – running away with the Presidents’ Trophy. (1)

2. Phoenix – Ilya Bryzgalov is Vezina worthy. (UR)

3. San Jose – losers of five straight. (2)

4. Chicago – losing Campbell will hurt. (3)

5. Vancouver – Samuelsson out 2-3 weeks. (5)

8. Detroit – big win over Calgary to begin western Canada trip. (11)

Just get in.

That’s got to be the mantra thrown around the Red Wings’ locker room over the final 11 games of the regular season.

And then let’s see what happens.

How would you like to be the Chicago Blackhawks and get forced to play Detroit in the first round of the playoffs? The Wings are 2-2-1 against Chicago this season.

How about the biggest-top-seed-choke artists the Western Conference has ever seen – the San Jose Sharks? The Sharks have finished first in the Pacific Division four out of the last seven seasons, and two other times came in second. They’ve reached the Western Conference finals just once in that timeframe. Detroit is also 3-0-1 against San Jose this season.

And then there’s Vancouver. In his three previous seasons with the Canucks, goalie Roberto Luongo has led them to the postseason twice, bowing out in the Western Conference semifinals both times. And prior to last night, the Wings were 2-1-0 against the Canucks this season.

That, as of Saturday night, is how the top three seeds in the Western Conference looked.

If I were on the Wings’ coaching staff I’d not only keep a close eye on the teams battling for the final spot in the playoffs, but I’d keep close tabs on who’s taking seeds No. 1 through No. 3 once the postseason begins.

Less travel would be more appealing if I was a team needing to play the top dogs each round of the playoffs.

But before we get ahead of ourselves there’s a little something the Wings have to do before looking at who their first-round opponent will be and that’s make the playoffs.

Friday night in Edmonton, it looked like a case of divine intervention.

Trailing 2-1 to the Oilers, Pavel Datsyuk somehow got a pass onto the stick of a wide-open Brian Rafalski, who buried a shot by rookie goaltender Davan Dubnyk with two tenths of a second left in regulation to give the Wings a much needed point.

They wound up losing in a shootout, but still maintained the eighth seed with 81 points despite being tied in points with the Calgary Flames. (The Wings hold the tiebreaker over the Flames by winning the head-to-head series.)

Although the mood in the locker room seemed pretty upbeat, according to published reports, for at least getting one-point in what looked like a sure loss, the fact remains they also left a point on the ice to the worst team in the National Hockey League.

Of Detroit’s last 11 games, six came against teams that aren’t making the postseason and all but one of those is at Joe Louis Arena. Three are against Columbus and one apiece with Minnesota, St. Louis and Edmonton.

But as in life there are no guarantees.

Despite being the league’s bottom dwellers, the Oilers have won all three meetings thus far with the Wings, two of which ended in a shootout. Detroit also has a losing record with the Blues. They’ve had just one win in the first five meetings with St. Louis.

Having those three games left with the Blue Jackets, all of which will occur in a nine-day period in April, almost makes the Wings an assured lock to make the playoffs. The Wings are 2-0-1 and have owned them since Columbus got a franchise and were lodged in the Central Division.

Yes, Detroit is flirting with its first non-playoff season since 1989-90.

Yes, they’re going to finish with fewer than 48 wins for the first time in more than a decade.

Yes, the toll of three straight trips deep in the playoffs, the last two ending in the Stanley Cup finals, has to be taking a toll on many of these players.

But folks, the Wings are going to make the playoffs. The odds are in their favor.

All the Wings need to do is win and they’re in.