Wings fly into Bell Centre


One of the NHL’s elite teams, the first-overall Detroit Red Wings, come to the Bell Centre for a big game on Wednesday, big not just for the home team, now 10 points south of the eighth spot, but also for the visitors, who have won seven straight and want to pull away from the pack in the Western Conference.

It’s also the only game on the schedule as the league heads into the All-Star break, so tonight’s spotlight will shine solely on these clubs.

The Red Wings can do what all great teams do — play any style and win. They skate very well, they have magnificent skill, they can outscore opponents (with 158 goals, tied for fourth in the league; their +48 goal differential is second in the league), they can play a shutdown game (their 110 goals against are also tied for fourth in the league), they don’t beat themselves with bad penalties (their average of 8.5 minutes a game is second lowest in the league).

And if anyone thinks the Wings can be pushed around, they didn’t see Detroit’s game against the Blues on Monday night, in which St. Louis tried to intimidate the Wings, only to find them more than willing to drop the gloves and hold their own — plus forcing the Blues into penalties that resulted in two of Detroit’s tallies in a 3-1 victory, including this beauty by All-Star Pavel Datsyuk.

That’s just some of what Datsyuk does, of course. If there is a more complete player in the sport, someone who can do more things better than him, both with and without the puck, you’ll have to clue me in. The game’s best stickhandler, a great shooter, as well as a past Selke winner as top defensive forward, he too showed his willingness to physically against the Blues (video).

It’s hard to know where to begin when examining the Red Wings. They are expertly managed by Ken Holland. They scout and draft as well as any team. Their coach, McGill grad Mike Babcock, is one of the best in the league (and if you missed it, here’s a very good interview with Babcock by Mitch Melnick on TSN 990 Tuesday afternoon).

Their defence features one of the all-time greats, the ageless Nick Lidstrom, and the hard-hitting, hard-shooting Niklas Kronwall. Under the radar is Ian White, whose plus-27 is tied for second in the league and best among all defencemen. He’s also approaching his career high in points. The Wings defencemen lead the NHL with 33 goals, 11 from Kronwall and 10 from Lidstrom. The Wings d-men often come in late and are allowed to join the rush because their forwards are so good defensively and don’t commit many turnovers in the neutral zone.

In addition to Datsyuk, the forwards include another well-rounded star in Henrik Zetterberg; a trio of big bodies who can both bang and score in Tomas Holmstrom (still great in front of the net), Johan Franzen (the league leader with nine game-winning goals) and the resurgent Todd Bertuzzi; high skill guys like Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Dan Cleary; strong depth players like speedy Darren Helm and Justin Abdelkater; and buzz saw winger Drew Miller.

It’s an impressive collection of skaters and they play an often-beautiful puck possession game, skating to the open ice and executing sharp, creative passes. Watch how often they start their breakouts with a pass into their own slot or somewhere around their own net, which gives them more options for the next pass than teams who regularly come up the boards.

But perhaps most impressive this season has been the growth of Jimmy Howard into an All-Star goaltender. Now in his third full season as a Wing, his 30 wins leads the NHL, his goals against average of 1.95, save percentage of .926 and five shutouts are among the very best and, stats aside, he’s become one of those goalies that, when he’s on his game, not only stops all the shots he should, but lots that he shouldn’t.

Here’s a clue as to how good they are playing team defence: They are 21-1-1 when leading after two periods.

If the Red Wings have a weakness, it might be that their special teams have been strangely mediocre this year. They’re 10th on the PP at 18.9 percent, 21st on the PK at 81.4 percent (perhaps in part because they get so little PK work). But they are excellent five-on-five, their 110 goals second the NHL, their 69 goals against fifth best, but only one goal behind the three teams tied for second.

Those ingredients have resulted in Detroit winning 12 of their past 15 games over the last month and enjoy winning streaks of seven, six and five games so far. When the game goes beyond 60 minutes, they are nearly unbeatable — 3-0 in OT, 5-1 in the post-game skills competition. Simply put, this team has been tough to beat.

Babcock is a master of in-game adjustments, but here’s how the Wings might start the night:

Johan Franzen, Pavel Datsyuk, Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula, Henrik Zetterberg, Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller Darren Helm, Dan Cleary
Cory Emmerton, Justin Abdelkader, Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom, Ian White
Niklas Kronwall, Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Commodore

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin


  1. HabFanSince72 says:

    I would argue that Gainey did move the Habs towards the Wings model. Many things have improved since he took over. Obviously we have had a bad half-season, and many people want everyone fired and everything blown up, but looking at it objectively the organization is much better.

    Of course, we didn’t draft any superstars in the late rounds but no one is doing that anymore.

    Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

    • Habfan10912 says:

      In my next life I’ll come back as a Red Wing fan.

    • CranbrookEd says:

      Comments like these are why you likely sleep a lot better than many other posters on this site, who have a very dark perception of what really is. Yes, the team is actually better than the record shows. Bad (or in many games, non-existent) luck combined with injuries has not helped. In general, people with a glass half full attitude such as yourself, as much happier and easier to be around . . . there is NO reason for a demolition of the team, though there are some veterans who are currently not making the grade.

      Mr. Beliveau: “Pure Pak mais oui”! . . . What ever happened to Johnny Jelly-Bean!?

    • BeeGee says:

      I’d say you’re right to say the organization improved… One could argue Savard started to right the ship… But we were in very bad shape then.

      That said asset management has been terrible as a whole. A few examples? Countless UFA’s left and we’ve gotten nothing in return (remember the centennial team?), We consistently bought high and sold low, I can think of at least 5 promising young players that have been shipped out of town for next to nothing, we wasted draft picks for rentals, etc…

      It’s not all bad, there’s a lot of luck (or lack thereof) involved, but there have been just too many mistakes made by this management team.

      The vision behind the team was bad to begin with… PG finally coming out mid season saying the team can’t thrive on speed and skill alone… that you actually need size! Shocker!!

      On top of that you had this speed and skill style as a managerial goal while every coach we’ve had has been playing a tight defensive system!

      Yes it’s better than it was, but it still ain’t good enough.

    • DorvalTony says:

      Smurfs fail. Therrien, Carbo, Julien, Vigneault, fail. Zero cups, fail. Two countries Canadiens don’t draft from, Sweden and…Quebec. Fail.

      ”First of all, you have to have continuity if you are to have success,” Pollock told the New York Times. ”I think it gets the manager and the players to become more attached to each other.” – Sam Pollock

  2. BeeGee says:

    The wings are certainly my 2nd favorite team. Of course they might have been a little lucky in drafting core guys like Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom so late… But there can be no doubt they’re a model organization for their scouting departments (pro and amateur) and asset management. Plus their coaching staff is top notch.

    Personally, I don’t believe the habs need a complete rebuild. IMHO we do need
    1. top level management & coaching staff
    2. a big dominant center
    3. a big dominant top 4 defensemen
    4. 2 or 3 depth players that have grit, size, speed and skill (in that order).

    That sure is considerable, but it’s not a complete rebuild.

    Ok so an 8 game winning streak would bring this group back in the thick of things… but it has to start now. That said, if we loose tonight and/or the next couple of games, here would be my motto:



  3. Habitant in Surrey says:

    …I just listened to the PK Subban audio on the previous thread for the first time …listening to PK My impression is how intelligent He sounds compared to many other hockey players with their boilerplate platitudes …how realistic He sounds …how effervescent, dynamic and positive He sounds …and, how committed He sounds as a hockey Player …PK Subban is one cool cat, and so glad He is a Montreal Canadien

    …in contrast, listening to the unwashed ambulance chasers asking their sleazeball loaded invasive questions everyway upside the Players’ faces, I just am perplexed understanding WHY the media’s access to Our Players and Their privacy within the dressing room is not contained in a more reasonable way

    …no wonder after a season or so many of Our Players want out

    …that must change, because with everything else as far as exceptional stress and loss of privacy playing in Montreal, the dressingroom should be a reserve of privacy from the maddening hordes

    Habitant means PASSIONATE HOCKEY

    • Jim Edson says:


      Media access is mandated to some extent by the league and to larger extent through team media contracts/obligations ie. RDS and TSN.

      What does the Commissioner of the NHL do?

      In short, a league commissioner is the action man for the Board of Governors.

      They tell him what they want done and he works to make it happen through his subordinates while making sure that individual franchises play by the rules.

      ******** Translated if you haven’t won the Stanley Cup in 40 years your NHL team is becoming irrelevant in a sports mad city long behind MLB, NFL and NBA teams, you just tell the commissioner(who you gave a new contract at 7 plus million per) to make it happen and the rules are bent sufficiently to action the command.

    • AliHaba says:

      I agree with you on that. A while back I blogged about Subban’s courageous play while being the most targetted Hab and I received many offensive responses saying I was either deluded or blind or both.
      In my opinion this team’s future success depends largely on PK’s development and we as fans should be behind him 100%.

    • DorvalTony says:

      Yep, he’s a breath of fresh air and a fine young talent. Love it to death when he’s freewheeling. Thrills for many years to come.

      ”First of all, you have to have continuity if you are to have success,” Pollock told the New York Times. ”I think it gets the manager and the players to become more attached to each other.” – Sam Pollock

  4. AliHaba says:

    Well I’ve always been an optimist and haven’t written this season off as most have, I must say that a loss tonight leaving the team ten points back at the break might be the proverbial straw.
    A win over the league’s top team; however, would be quite a statement going into the homestretch.

    Go! Habs Go!

  5. Un Canadien errant says:

    Just changed the channel from Sportsnet’s news, I never watch them since they’re so horrible. They were doing a piece on Mikhail Grabovski and how he could be moved at the trade deadline. First, former goon Nick Kypreos, who had a forgettable career except for how he took out Grant Fuhr in one playoff by falling on him and rupturing his ACL and effectively ending his career, anyway, this monument to the absence of credibility pipes up by saying that the Leafs centres aren’t going to get the job done if they get into the playoffs, going up “against the Rangers, the Bruins, and the, …, uh, the Rangers….” Another talking head, having done 20 seconds of research, explains that Mr. Grabovski would be a ‘perfect fit’ in Nashville, ignorant of the fact that he would there be reunited with Sergei Kostitsyn, with who he feuded to such a degree when they were both Canadiens that it got him traded to Toronto in the first place.

    Great job Sportsnet. I hope you run the Leafs like you run your sports news desk.

    How about it NHL? No fighting, just hockey?

    • Jim Edson says:

      Normand, the talking heads all share one common trait that being the “story” is more important than the facts.

      And some want to draft a talking head into the Habs as GM because he knows where every junior player lives, his mothers name and where played his midget hockey.

      If he was so great how come nobody has taken a chance on him since the 90’s?

      It’s not like he hasn’t applied for jobs.

      Go figure.

      What does the Commissioner of the NHL do?

      In short, a league commissioner is the action man for the Board of Governors.

      They tell him what they want done and he works to make it happen through his subordinates while making sure that individual franchises play by the rules.

      ******** Translated if you haven’t won the Stanley Cup in 40 years your NHL team is becoming irrelevant in a sports mad city long behind MLB, NFL and NBA teams, you just tell the commissioner(who you gave a new contract at 7 plus million per) to make it happen and the rules are bent sufficiently to action the command.

  6. Habitant in Surrey says:

    …Normand, it starts at the top …Michael Ilievski (aka, Mike Illitch Sr., and founder of Little Caesar’s Pizza) is the inspiration of the organizational exceptualism of the Detroit Red Wings

    …Geoff Molson’s Father and Grandfather are people Mike Ilitch learned from and adapted for the Wings …Our future success and organizational stability depends as much on the philosophies Geoff Molson instills today as whomever is Our General Manager or Coach

    …and, of course, it is but only coincidence beer and pizza go so well together 🙂

    Habitant means PASSIONATE HOCKEY

  7. Habitant in Surrey says:

    …this is a YouTube link I stumbled upon tonight of the 1967 Stanley Cup Playoffs …at whichtime , of course, the Weeds spoiled Our Canadian Centennial celebrations by surprising Our favoured Team in the Final

    …but, I’m not posting it to get anyOne emotionally unstable revisiting that particular glitch during Our Golden Era …I am posting it because there are great examples of the stand-up style of goaltending prevalent during the time …Rogatien Vachon, Gump, Johhnny Bower, Terry Sawchuk, Eddie Giacomin and one of My favourite non-Habs Glenn Hall (briefly)

    …In My day as a goalie (50s, 60s), of course, that was the way to play goal …for Me without a mask …all reflexes with pads and glove, stick, and aggressive positioning

    …when I compare the ol’ dayz to today’s game, I don’t usually waste My time denigrating today’s game because the overall talent level and speed is so much greater today, such living-in the past would be quite foolish …but, there is one area I wish I could turn-back the clock to, and that is I wish I could get today’s goalies to return to the stand-up style …I hate the butterfly-era because I find the continual flopping to the knees, huge equipment and passive positioning boring

    …I remember sitting on the edge of My livingroom couch as a very young boy, legs and arms flailing emulating the ‘rapier-like’ pad and glove saves of My hero Jacques Plante …ultimately His style was the basis of My own game at the time

    …I look back at the much smaller and thinner pads and gloves and I am amazed goals per game has not varied too much to this era of huge equipment and the butterfly …but to Me, the ‘excitement’ of watching a goaltender today pales in comparison to how I reacted as a Fan of the stand-up goalies in the era of Plante, Hall, Sawchuck, Bower, and Vachon et al

    …just one Ol’ Goalies’s rumination 🙂

    Habitant means PASSIONATE HOCKEY

  8. Un Canadien errant says:

    Interesting writeup on the Wings, who we all compare the Canadiens to in terms of organizational strength, managerial acumen and drafting prowess. We envy their stability and the respect they engender across the league.

    Watching l’Antichambre tonight, they had on three guests who I had to Google to figure out who they were: Claude Legault, Louis Morissette and Stéphane Archambault. Apparently they are all well-known in Québec, and are all actors and do improv among other talents. In any case, they were there to represent the average fan of the Canadiens, and they were all informed, passionate and engaging. The paradox in their comments is that all three agreed, along with many in the Commentariat, that the Wings is a model franchise in that they have stability instead of lurching from one crisis to another disaster, and their leadership instills respect throughout the league. A minute later though, all three advocated replacing Pierre Gauthier and Bob Gainey relatively quickly. I guess the priority is change now, stability later.

    How about it NHL? No fighting, just hockey?

    • BeeGee says:

      Saw that and what you say is true… but they also said the Wings’ ‘2nd floor’ is considered the best in the business… I don’t think anyone would say the habs come anywhere close to that…

      Amateur scouting is quite good in my humble opinion, although that can always be better… but pro scouting and hockey operations as a whole needs to be seriously upgraded. PG was the head of pro scouting and special advisor during the Gainey years, and well… there were just too many big mistakes made.

      Asset management in particular has been just terrible. Loosing UFA’s for nothing, spending valuable picks on short term rentals, wasting young talent by not providing proper support and structure, etc.

      Molson has to put his mark on the team by putting together his own “all-star” management team… the goal should be to make this a competitive team every season. That’s what Illitch did. Remember the Wings had it really bad before they turned the whole thing around…

      Luckily there’s enough money in Montreal… more than in Detroit. So they can scout better, have better facilities, have more/better staff…etc.

      But it takes strong leadership and vision, and that can only come from the very top.

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