Red Wings try to rise above rash of injuries
Toronto — The Red Wings are battling to manage a flock of early season injuries.
Mike Babcock is battling to manage expectations building since the Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup 49 seasons ago in the English-speaking capital of hockey in Canada.
And Petr Mrazek (3-3, 2.67 goals against average and .921 save percentage) will start in net Friday, coach Jeff Blashill said, after both he and Jimmy Howard (3-2-1, 2.01, .934) each started six of the Wings’ first 12 games.
Mike Green, potentially the Wings' best offensive defenseman and a key offseason acquisition, will remain out of the lineup against the Maple Leafs, Blashill said.
Green, whose shoulder was injured Oct. 23 against the Flames on a body check, said Thursday that he is feeling close to returning, but that coming back too early could result in a long convalescence.
Meanwhile, Ken Holland said that no further determination has been made on Kyle Quincey, arguably the team’s top defensive defenseman. Quincey revealed this week he played in pain much of last season and this season on a right ankle, that was catastrophically separated in a major injury when he was 16.
Surgery is a possibility.
“We’re still talking to people,” Holland said. “But he’s going to be out for a while.”
The Wings have won two straight and have maintained improvement over the course of at least three recent games, and improved defensive play has been part of the process – especially as the defensive corps grapple with players in and out of the lineup and new schemes instituted by Blashill.
“You know, I think we’ve improved throughout the course of the year,” Blashill said. “And I think sometimes that’s shows in results, and sometimes it hasn’t.
“But we need to continue to get better. Our focus is trying to get better every day; I think we’ve taken steps in that direction.
“The other part of it, though, is to make sure you grab as many points as you can get along the way, and earn as many points as possible. Points are critical in this league. It’s tight. Every game is so tight. Tonight will be the same thing.
“It’s going to be an extremely hard game. We’re going to have to go out and execute at a high level, to give ourselves the best chance to win.
“But that doesn’t guarantee a win.”
Considered the best coach in the game by many in Canada, Babcock’s arrival in Toronto was perceived as a big boost for the Original Six franchise that has gone the longest without a Stanley Cup — now exceeding the Red Wings drought from 1955 to 1997 by seven seasons.
A 2-8-2 start is not what was expected. But when he was in Detroit to start the season, Babcock asserted that his job renovating the Maple Leafs is going to be more difficult than he expected.
In responding to the large media troop that covers the Leafs, in the hockey rabid country, like all coaches and general managers, Babcock must try to affect anticipations of the progress of his work and the players’ progress.
“Well, I thought we had our best game in the last game,” he said, of the 4-2 loss to the Jets Wednesday that came after a 4-1 defeat of the Stars Monday.
“But in the end — you know, we talk about this every day — we’re in the winning business.
“I’ve always evaluated the process, all the time, whether I was coaching in Anaheim, or the Red Wings or here. And I think we’re getting better.
“Someone had something the other day about Nazem Kadri having a slow start. I think he’s having the best start of his career. I think he’s been phenomenal.
“So, what I see and you see, sometimes, aren’t the same thing,” he said, shrugging. “That’s no big thing.”
When the questioner responded that Kadri’s offense production, one goal and five assists in 12 games is lagging, Babcock was having none of it.
“Not to me, I think he’s having a great season. I think he’s becoming a real player on both sides of the puck, and he makes his teammates better.
“So, it depends what you’re looking at. I think he’s getting better every day.”
Drew Miller reached 500 games played, Tuesday, in the 2-1 win against the Lightning.
The consummate lunch bucket player who developed as one of the better penalty killers in the NHL, Miller’s 500 have not been easy miles, playing almost continually on the fourth line and in a defensive role, as a forward.
“It definitely sneaks up on you,” Miller said. “You can’t believe it’s already 500 games.
“I definitely have my fair share of healthy scratches and a couple of minor injuries along the way.
“But every year you’ve got to try to adjust your game and change with the changing of the NHL, new rules, or faster this, or more penalty kill. You’ve got to try to change everything as the game evolves.
“It’s my 10th year of pro. I’m just trying to work hard every day and have that consistency that management and the coaching staff know they’re going to get from me, every day.”
With Hockey Hall of Fame a short walk away from the Air Canada Centre, the morning skates by the Red Wings and Maple Leafs drew a significant crowd, including former Wings coach and Hall member Scotty Bowman.
Bowman, who is also on the selection committee, had long audiences with some members of the media before huddling with Holland.
As the media gathered for Blashill’s pregame briefing, Bowman happened down the hallway and found some private moments with the third Wings coach to succeed him since he retired after the 2002 Stanley Cup championship.
Three of Bowman’s former players will enter the Hall Monday: former Wings Nicklas Lidstrom and Sergei Fedorov and potent offensive defenseman Phil Housley, whom Bowman coached in Buffalo.
Housley is now an assistant coach of the Predators.