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.”
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.
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.”
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.”
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.