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Not so quietly, Nicklas Lidstrom is putting the heat on the Toronto media’s Norris poster boy, Bryan McCabe.

Lidstrom is on fire, with 20 points his last 15 games (7g, 13a). 

McCabe’s best 15 game stretch has been 18 points (7g, 11a).

McCabe continues to play consistently, and very well.  But as Lidstrom’s offense has picked up, his defensive responsiblities have increased with the Fischer situation.  As usual, Nick has thrived with an excess of 30 minutes per game.

USA Today has an interesting feature where they use a formula to rank the NHL’s best clutch players.  It’s based on numbers of go-ahead goals, tying goals and bonuses awarded to goals scored at other pivotal game moments.  Lidstrom is ranked 15th in the league.  McCabe is nowhere to be found.

Dec 25th, Mlive:

“I always knew he was good, I had no idea he was this good,” Babcock said Friday following his team’s 3-2 overtime victory in Chicago. “I’ve coached some real good players, he’s the best player I ever coached.”

Babcock echoed that last night on the Wings post-game show when he said that Lidstrom is simply on another level than the rest of the NHL’s defensemen.

McCabe’s coach, Pat Quinn, has been answering a few questions, himself; primarily about whether the Leaf blueliner belongs in Turin, even on the taxi squad.

From the  Calgary Sun:

Despite McCabe’s hectic point pace, which has him projected to rack up nearly 100 in total by the end of the season, some skeptics seem to believe the 30-year-old blueliner was added only because his NHL coach, Pat Quinn, will also be behind the bench in Italy.

More from the Calgary Sun

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Earlier in the week, I posted my Wing-specific midway trophies and said Henrik Zetterberg would get the Hart. 

I still believe he is the Wings’ MVP so far, but Nick Lidstrom is gaining.  The two Swedes are sharing the load.

They’re carrying the Wings as Lidstrom scored twice last night and Hank, despite being held scoreless for only the third time this year, was a dynamic, tenacious force in the Predator end all night.

The performance you saw last night by this team is one that can win a Cup.  It was inspired, tough, opportunistic hockey; the kind that wins playoff series’.

Mike Babcock must be having a blast coaching this team.  Last night he threw Draper, Lang and an energized Steve Yzerman out there to start the game.

Franzen was scratched with an “upper body” injury as a result of a big check from Eric Brewer Thursday night. Mark Mowers took his place.

Wings came out fast, as they had to.  The Barbecue Pit was jumping and the Preds, while no longer the team that averages an age of 14, completely feed off that crowd’s energy. 

Conversely, we all know the troubles Detroit’s had in the first period lately, so it was vital that the Wings match that tenacity from the start. 

They did. 

They established the forecheck well before Nashville did and had three great scoring chances in the first. Datsyuk hit a post, Mowers with a breakaway and Zetterberg nearly scored to end the period close in but Vokoun made a nice save.

Vernon Fiddler, yes that Vernon Fiddler, scored the Preds only goal on the PP with Lilja in the box.  This goal was the only disappointing moment for the Wings all night as he and Hartnell were alone and, I believe, discussing Star Jones’ later appearance on 20/20 in front of Legace when Fiddler tapped a rebound past Manny.  Chelios and Lidstrom were near them but decided no forms of violence were necessary to keep the crease clear.

Wings looked great from that point forward.  They didn’t dominate the second, but clearly had the edge.  Mark Mowers played a great game last night.  He nearly scored on the breakaway in the first.

But, more importantly, he seemed to understand his role very well.  Numerous times he crossed into the Nashville end, looked briefly for a chance then moved the puck to the corner where he and Cleary established the forecheck. 

Steve Yzerman had his best game of the year.  More than 13 minutes of ice time and a crisp pass to Lidstrom on the Wings’ third goal.  If this is the Yzerman we have in the playoffs, we are in good shape.  That assist tied him with Gordie Howe for 7th on the NHL all time list with 1,049.

The Jason Williams power play experiment should stop.  He played great 5-5 last night, but if his blast of a slap shot is the only reason Babcock gives him so much time with the advantage, then he needs to be in a position to shoot more.  It seems that every time Williams tries to enter the zone, the puck ends up headed the other way.  When Kronwall comes back it will be interesting to see if he eventually moves to the point on the PP.

When Chelios was called for an early interference penalty, he went to the box for the first time in six games.  Yes, he had early trouble adapting to the “new” rules.  But look at this:

  • 1st 5 games:   16 PIM
  • last 20 games: 12 PIM

I’d say he’s adapting ok.

Manny Legace was fantastic with 29 saves, several very difficult.  His glove save in the first set the tone for a good night and he maintained it.  Nothing he could do on the only Nashville goal as he was hung out to dry by Chelios and Lidstrom.

Game 1 of 8 and the Wings are in good shape, up by 6 points.  Unfortunately, Nashville has a relative cakewalk of month–the exception being one game with Carolina, and two more with Detroit.

Center Ice featured the Preds broadcast with Pete Weber and Terry Crisp.  They are hokey, irritating and Weber seems to know about as much hockey as a Navy Ensign knows about leadership.  But, it dawned on me last night that they’re a perfect fit for the Nashville audience–and no, that’s not an insult. For a community just getting to know hockey, it’s effective to have a couple affable old guys laughing at themselves, displaying a little homerism and not talking above the heads of a fan base that is growing more passionate.

ESPN Box 

On the Wings Game Recap

Detroit Free Press Game Recap

Mlive Game Recap

Daily Tennessean Game Recap

Daily Tennessean: two horse race

Daily Tennessean: Preds still catching up to Detroit

Detroit Free Press: Wings Corner

 

Blues Clueless

January 6, 2006

Watching the Wings own the Blues the way they have since Steve Yzerman cemented his legend in ’96 with The Shot (and really, again in ’97 with The Speech) has always given me a warm feeling in my tummy, but it’s a little sad to see a once-proud franchise faltering so badly. 

Hopefully, once new ownership is in place the team will regain its luster and watching a butt kicking like last night’s will be a bit more enjoyable. On to the notes:

  • Watching on FSN, via Center Ice, it appeared to me that the Joe looked packed at the start, which I attributed to the return of Yzerman or the goalie conspiracy theorists.  Naturally, a shot of the lower bowl later in the game showed more than a few empty seats.  I’m sure no one else is irritated by the companies who buy the tickets and let them go unused, so I won’t even mention it.  Suggesting that there are plenty of kids in Michigan who would love an opportunity to see Pavel Datsyuk at ice level, kids who could benefit from a little corporate generosity, is probably a waste of time so I won’t even discuss it here.
  • Six weeks since Legace started.  9 weeks since Datsyuk scored at home–unbelievable stat.  His +/- at home and away is dramatically different as well. More thoughts on that in a minute.
  • Despite reports of back spasms, Brendan Shanahan played 14 minutes and had some jump at the start.
  • Was there a difference? Hard to tell but it seemed the Wings were determined not to fall into the early malaise that has struck them the last four games. They came out fast, with pressure on the first shift and outshot SL 12-5.
  • Datsyuk scored on the PP and then Draper shorthanded on a great pass from Chelios.  Ok, ok…I apologize for making fun of the locker shift story yesterday.  Obviously, I underestimated the logistical import of such a daring tactical maneuver.  I now recommend the Wings clubhouse staff move the players’ gear randomly late every evening so no one knows where the hell they’ll be dressing until they get to the rink every day. 
  • Datsyuk’s first goal at JLA since October 21st (deflection off Salvador).  That odd stat, IMO, has to give at least a little credence to the crutch we’ve heard the last five years, that the Wings try to be too cute at home. If anyone’s a culprit of that, it would be Pavel.  Shoot the puck and weird, wacky, happy puppy like things happen.
  • Dan Cleary looked good last night.  One particular play featured a rush up ice, avoiding two separate Blues along the boards and feeding Yzerman in front, who one-timed a soft pass to Homer.  Great save by Sanford, but encouraging play from Cleary and the captain.
  • Jason Williams looked a little more comfortable on the point last night, and assisted on Datsyuk’s goal.
  • Wings coasted after the first.  Blues looked tired and, frankly, disinterested after going down by 2. 
  • So, Manny Legace gets a shutout his first game back.  Congrats.  I honestly can’t remember more than one legitimate scoring chance for St. Louis, but let’s not downplay the fact that the team played very well in front of him.  And that may be a determining factor when Babcock decides who the Number 1 will be.  The Wings were very responsible defensively last night, similar to Howard’s first start.  In Detroit, success as a goalie hinges on the team’s performance–since it’s official now that it is strictly illegal for a Wing goalie to steal a game.
  • Zetterberg’s goal in the 3rd, his 18th, was a little flukey but wouldn’t have happened had he not followed his shot and crashed the net.
  • Did I see Robert Lang almost get into a catfight last night?  I must have dreamt it.  If it really happened, let me know.
  • Good win for the Wings and nice to see they could focus on this one with the beginning of the Nashville series starting tonite.
  • Finally, anyone but me feel the win just wasn’t as fun to watch without seeing Mark Mowers in there? 

On the Wings game report

St. Louis Post Dispatch game report

Detroit News Game Report

Detroit Free Press Game Report

AP Game Report

NHL.com Superstats

All three deep-digging, comprehensive, forward-leaning Michigan dailys are vigorously reporting this morning that Wings captain Steve Yzerman will play tonite.  Of course, none of their web editions had any mention of it when the story broke 12 hours ago, but they’re still learning that tricky internet thing.

According to the Detroit Free Press, Yzerman felt ready enough to play Tuesday against Minnesota.

Yzerman nearly played in Tuesday’s 4-2 loss to Minnesota, but two things changed that prospect. One, Brendan Shanahan decided his back spasms weren’t so bad he couldn’t play; and, two, the coaching staff urged Yzerman to wait one more game so he could be “over-ready.”

Oh yeah, and Shanny’s got this back thing going on.  Naturally, none of our pesty, curious beat writers thought to mention, (or even ask perhaps?) that Shanahan’s back spasms may be the reason he hasn’t scored in four games, or been nearly the presence around the net he had been this season.

Ohhhhh….I see.  Kulfan, St. James and Kahn were on to a much bigger story than Shanny’s back.  You see…the Wings shifted lockers yesterday.  Apparently, Kris Draper felt attempts to break out of his slump needed to be taken to the next level.  The Detroit News’ coverage of this riveting episode:

Draper moved back to his old locker, which was occupied by Robert Lang, and moved out of what had been Brett Hull‘sold locker.

Kirk Maltbyalso wanted to switch, and Draper said it was Maltby who originally brought up the idea.

“Then we got everything put in motion,” Draper said.

“It was a big shuffle and we have to give Frosty (assistant equipment manager Chris Scoppetto) all the credit.

“He did a great job rearranging everything.”

Scoppetto completed moving everyone into their new lockers during Wednesday’s practice.

In the end, Draper, Maltby, Lang, Dan Cleary, Pavel Datsyukand Jason Williamswere all involved in the musical locker switch.

“Hullie’s locker had a lot of goals in it,” said Draper, but the magic hadn’t rubbed off on Draper, who has two goals this season. “Maybe this will work.”

We’ll have more locker-shift coverage here on A2Y as that late breaker develops.

 

Huge month for Wings

January 2, 2006

Of the 14 games the Wings play during the month of January:

  • 12 are against teams headed for the playoffs.  Colorado (on 21 January) is on the bubble–insert laugh track here–but we’ll assume they’ll make it.
  • 3 are against Nashville.  Currently, Wings have a four point lead with a game in hand. 
  • 3 are against some of the best from the East: Carolina, Philly and NYR, and occur over a four-day span (10-14 Jan)
  • 5 against Nashville (twice), Vancouver, Dallas and Minnesota in the month’s final week.

If the Wings are in first on 1 February, October’s schedule against the league’s jv squads should be long forgotten.

20 points out of a possible 28 would be very nice.

Ahhhh, Ted

January 2, 2006

He just doesn’t get it.  Ted  Montgomery is at it again, reading between the lines where nothing is there.  Speculating as if he has insider knowledge, when the least knowledgable of us see his “column” for what it is…a sham.

Larry Brooks is one thing.  Bruce Garrioch is one thing.  They broker hockey rumors and have no problem admitting what they do.

Montgomery, due mainly to the circulation of his employer, USA Today, tries to pass himself off as an insider–and tosses his homegrown ideas, without attribution, out there as if they were fact.

Today’s column is a prime example. From “Ted Mouths Off”:

A Detroit newspaper recently ran a profile on Fedorov’s new hockey life, and he seemed disconsolate to be stuck in Columbus, even going so far as to suggest regret about his decision to leave Detroit.

Really Ted?  Care to quote that article?  I will, and you’ll see that no where does Fedorov appear “disconsolate,” and he doesn’t come close to “expressing regret” at leaving Detroit

Courtesy of the Detroit Free Press, via the San Jose Mercury News.

“I’m up for the challenge,” he said recently after practice in Columbus. “This is nice.”

You’re right Ted.  He sounds downright suicidal.

Two weeks ago, Fedorov scored his first goal for the Blue Jackets. As it happened, it was also his first goal of the season – he missed 13 games in California with a groin pull. The goal wasn’t his most elegant, a rebound slapper on the fly, but it helped beat the New York Islanders, 4-3, in a shootout.

He didn’t look as fast, but he came off the ice smiling.

Manically depressed, right Ted?

Look, I have no problem with a writer who speculates, assumes, opines, editorializes, guesses or predicts.  But, to paraphrase another article and interpret it to support your own agenda is unprofessional and typical of his style.

Fedorov feature in SJ Merc. News.

Montgomery “column.”

For the record, do I think Fedorov regrets leaving?  Absolutely.  But he’s never said it, and after following his career for nearly 15 years, I don’t believe he ever will.

Wings’ mid-season awards

January 2, 2006

Halfway through the 2005-06 season and I thought it might be interesting to post my award winners, in a Wing-specific manner. 

Feel free to comment with your own thoughts on these and I’ll post readers’ results later this week.
 

Art Ross (Highest point total)—At the pole, it’s Datsyuk.   But, if you want a prediction as to who will lead the team at the end, I’m going with Zetterberg.  He’s four behind Datsyuk right now 43 to 39 points, respectively and 1 ahead of Shanny.  However, he’s averaging 1:30 more ice time than Dats and 2:30 more than Shanahan. 
 

Bill Masterson Sportsmanship Trophy, for sportsmanship and perserverence-I’m going to stress the perserverence part and go with Mikael Samuelsson.  His fifth team in five seasons (I’m still not used to replacing “years” with “seasons.”) and look what he’s done, seemingly out of nowhere.
 

Calder (Rookie of the Year)—This is a tough one.  Do you go with Brett Lebda or Johan Franzen.  Lebda has been a significant surprise.  Cool under pressure and a fantastic skater with a bright future.  But, Franzen…he is a force, and one that has earned a spot in late game situations.  If only for his performance on the PK, he gets the nod.
 

Conn Smythe—I thought about moving past this one along with the Jack Adams, Campbell and President’s trophy.  But, decided against it and will award this based on performances in games against teams in the league’s top 16.  In 13 games against the top half of the NHL, the Wings scorers looked like this:
 

  • Zetterberg 15 points
  • Datsyuk 13
  • Holmstrom 12
  • Williams 12
  • Lidstrom 10
  • Shanahan 8
  • Schneider 8
  • Samuelsson 8

 

Is that enough to prove one player’s excellence above the rest of the team? Probably not.  It doesn’t take into account +/, ice time, save percentage, PP goals, PK time, etc.  But, it does show which players have risen in big games—through one half of the season.  Zetterberg’s that guy.
 

Selke award (Best defensive forward)–  He’s not gonna score 24…maybe ever again.  But, Kris Draper is playing as tough and gritty as ever.  His PK performance is outstanding and he is as pesty as ever.
 

Norris-Two weeks ago, I would have said Chelios.  He’s so impressive, especially at his age.  Schneider is having a great season, as well.  But, right now, and for the last 9 games (14 points), Nicklas Lidstrom is playing as well as he ever has.  He gets the midway Wing Norris.
 

Clancy Memorial Trophy, for  leadership and humanitarian contribution-Jiri Fischer, a young man who has a decision on his hands. 
 

Lady Byng-Robert Lang.  In this case, that’s not a compliment. 
 

Lester B. Pearson award (MVP chosen by the players)-Clearly, I can’t predict who the Wings believe their first-half MVP is.  But, I’d bet the team would echo the coach and say Lidstrom is their MVP so far.
 

Lester Patrick Award, outstanding service to hockey-Sure, we’ll jump on the bandwagon.  Brendan Shanahan.  Maybe you don’t like the new rules, maybe you do.  But, instead of spending the lockout whining (see Manny Legace), Shanny was constructive and visible.  He’s a force within the NHL, politically.  And, considering the impact the sport has on the country of Canada, don’t be surprised if you see him take that influence into national politics when he retires.
 

Maurice Richard (leading goal scorer)– Right now, it’s Shanahan with 20.  He’s in a mini-slump (no goals his last three).  But, I predict he’ll stay on course, finish with 45 and lead the Wings.

Hart Trophy-I’ll stray from the Pearson pick on this one and go with Zetterberg.  I’ll use my Conn Smythe argument, along with what we see on the ice.  Every shift, Henrik Zetterberg seems to bring it.  IMO, he’s led the team and is a future Captain. 

Vezina (best goalie)-Man, I’m laughing as I write this because Wings fans are so frigging divided.  Over on the Mlive forum, I posted at the beginning of the year that I didn’t care who the number 1 was as long as it was established and stuck with.  Goalie controversy just plain sucks.  And, of course, here we are embroiled in one.  So, Manny starts out hot—but against competition that has proven to be inferior.  Osgood starts slow but has improved markedly.  I can’t tell you who I’d like to see starting in the playoffs because I just don’t know.  But, as for who the best has been for the Wings so far?   Manny.
 

What a game

December 29, 2005

Halfway through the first period of the Leafs/Sabres game tonite, it became strikingly clear that the “new” NHL is very capable of attracting a whole new generation of hockey fans.

After a long rebound off the blocker of Belfour, the Leafs were flying, rushing up ice, four skaters crossing the Buffalo blue line in perfect sync.  It was then, seeing a wash of royal blue flying toward Martin Biron, that I was reminded again just how great our game is to watch.

Tie Domi–of all people–deked and left a drop pass for McCabe, who blasted a slap shot by Biron. 

From there on, this game was amazing.  Everything you look for. Shorthanded goals for both teams, rare stoppages (I can’t recall a single whistle for icing or even offsides), great hits.

Midway throught the third with Toronto up 3-2, you could sense Eddie losing it.  We, as Wings fans, know that site very well.  Bobbling rebounds, losing his temper, slashing anyone within a few feet of him.  Inevitably he let in a softie with about 11 minutes left. 

At that point, I switched to the Pistons/Heat game on TNT.  From the chaos of the Air Canada Centre, every fan on his feet, the building shaking–to the Palace, a rivalry game built up by media from both cities; and you could hear the echo of the ball bouncing as Rip Hamilton dribbled around the perimeter.  Polite clapping as Rasheed hit a fall away.

I like the Pistons, but there is just no comparison between these two sports.

Back to Toronto and you knew it was going OT.  Great scoring chances from both sides as regulation drew to a close.  Odd man rushes, tenacious battles and the refs swallowed their whistles in the final minutes. 

As Mats Sundin beared down on Biron in the shootout, my wife said, “oh, cute leggings.”  He must have heard as he rifled one upstairs.   Buffalo couldn’t get past Belfour and the Leafs fans erupted.

Amazing game and testament to the NHL–new and old.