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Lions vs. Packers @ Ford Field 11/28/13 12:30 p.m.

Lions vs. Packers @ Ford Field 11/28/13 12:30 p.m.

This year’s Thanksgiving Day game in Detroit means more than any turkey day tilt over the past 20 years.  The Lions sit at 6-5 and are  barely holding on to the NFC North division lead.  With the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers both riddled with injuries, the Lions have been unable to seize a stranglehold on a division that was seemingly served up on a platter for the taking.  If the Lions are to lose Thursday, it may the type of loss that could dismantle the strides this organization has made under the tenure of head coach Jim Schwartz.

The phrase “same old Lions” has been thrown around after two straight losses to sub .500 teams.  Another loss to Green Bay, especially without superstar QB Aaron Rodgers, would prove this phrase true once again for Lions fans.  The Lions are just too talented of a team to squander a division championship with the amount of catastrophic injuries that have depleted the Bears and Packers this season.  And that’s what makes this week’s game against the Packers so important.  A win would give the Lions a two game lead over the Packers in the win column and more importantly, would guarantee the Lions the best record against division opponents for the season, an important tie breaker for the playoffs.

It appears that it will be Matt Flynn will start for the Packers this week.  The last time he started a game for the Packers he set a franchise record for passing yards and passing TDs.  That game was played against a Lions team that was good enough to make the playoffs during the 2011-2012 season.  Although the Flynn story line will likely be the most hyped, how the Lions plan to contain rookie running back Eddie Lacy will prove to be the focus of the defense this week.

If the Lions choke away this division lead you can bet that Schwartz’s job will be in jeopardy.  Although the Lions schedule isn’t exactly daunting down the stretch, this divisional match up this week will go a long way in determining how serious this team is becoming a legitimate NFC contender.  After the past two performances, it doesn’t seem like this team is ready to handle the spotlight.  We’ll see if that changes on the national stage.  This year’s Thanksgiving game is truly the most meaningful since the days of Barry Sanders and Herman Moore.

Sam Plymale

Datsyuk congratulates Seabrook after Game 7. (courtesy of CBC)

Datsyuk congratulates Seabrook after Game 7. (courtesy of CBC)

Now that we are a couple of days removed from a devastating Game 7 overtime loss by the Detroit Red Wings, I can actually look back at the season with my emotions in check.  I wanted to write a scathing blog the night of the loss, but decided to wait to see if the sting of the loss would fade.  I was furious at how this team choked away a 3-1 game lead to the rival Chicago Blackhawks.  What shocked me even more was the immediate response from 90 percent of Red Wings fans who were okay with the outcome following the loss.

Are these the same fans that usually find any excuse (weak goaltending, bad officiating, not big enough on the blue line) to vent their anger every time the Wings had a playoff exit over the past two decades?  What is going on here?  Why aren’t fans angrily blaming different  causes for the loss?  Why are so many fans proud of a losing team?  In my opinion, fans initial reaction to the loss was total weak sauce.  I expected more vigor and anger from a fan base who witnessed their swan song from the Western Conference end in a three game gag to their rival.  That said, not hearing lame excuses over the past couple of days was a bit of a refreshing take.

I guess this is what happens when a team squeaks into the playoffs and isn’t favored to win a series. Media expectations can alter fans’ viewpoint on what SHOULD happen.  But what I don’t think fans understand is this isn’t the NBA.  In the NHL, there is barely a difference in talent between the top seeds and the 8 seeds.  I believe the perceived  separation in talent between the Hawks and the Wings was grossly overblown, especially in this shortened season.  Are the Hawks a tad more talented?  Maybe.  But in my opinion, the Wings had the top two players in the series (Datsyuk and Zetterberg) and the better goaltender in Jimmy Howard.  Obviously the Hawks have more skill and depth on the blue line which was the key to Chicago eventually winning the series.

I’m really surprised fans are okay with the ending to this roller coaster season.  As fans in Hockeytown, don’t we hold this team to a higher standard?  Although there was a bit of a youth movement this season, this team still has world class superstars on the roster.  It isn’t like the roster was imploded and put in complete rebuild mode.  In fact, the phrase “rebuilding season” has been used more over the past few days than I’ve heard all season.  This was not a rebuilding year, retooling yes, but not a rebuild.

Although I am disappointed over the way things ended, there were several positives.  Howard emerged as an above average goalie, several rookies got valuable playoff experience and the Wings overcame devastating injuries to emerge as a contender.  Mike Babcock may have completed his best coaching job as a Red Wing.

Yet Babcock and GM Ken Holland have set a championship or bust standard in this town and that standard was not achieved this season.  Veteran stars Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Kronwall are all moving towards the downsides of their careers.  Although many fans are proud of what this team overcame this season, it doesn’t change the fact that this team missed an opportunity for greatness.  Although I too am proud at this team’s fight this season, it didn’t lessen the excruciating blow that took place Wednesday night.  It was bad watching the Wings lose a game 7 once, watching it happen twice was brutal.  As Wings fans all we can hope is to get revenge in next year’s Stanley Cup final.

Sam Plymale

 

 

Babcock should be considered for NHL coach of the year. (pic courtesy of zimbio.com)

Babcock should be considered for NHL coach of the year. (pic courtesy of zimbio.com)

It hasn’t been an easy year in Hockeytown.  Although it was a shortened year due to the lockout in 2012, this year’s Red Wings roster changed over more than an average 82-game season.  The Wings were are among the league leaders in man games lost to injury.  Before Saturday’s regular season finale in Dallas, the Wings racked up an astounding 241 man games lost in 47 games.  With the 3-0 win over Dallas, the Wings were amazingly able to clinch their 22nd consecutive playoff appearance, and this years berth can be directly attributed to the coaching job done by Mike Babcock.

Midway through this season, I questioned Babcock’s line groupings and why certain players (Justin Abdelkader) were getting a ton of playing time even though they weren’t producing on the score sheet.  Big mistake.  Why couldn’t I just trust what Babcock was doing?  I mean, Abdelkader had a mere 3 points ‘midway through the season when he was moved next to Pavel Datsyuk because of injury, so it seemed like a head-scratcher.  But Babcock knew what he was doing, and now the Datsyuk-Zetterberg-Abdelkader line is one of the hottest lines in the NHL.  Abby’s toughness and willingness to go to the net has proved to be a wonderful compliment to the skill of Datsyuk and Zetterberg as the Wings made their playoff push.

But it’s not only the Abdelkader decision that should make Babcock a contender for coach of the year.  It’s how he handled his young forward talent and the revolving door on the blue line that makes it one of the best coaching jobs I’ve seen since Scotty Bowman was at the helm.  The play of rookie Danny DeKeyser has seemed to solidify the defense, and Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith have continued their strong play.  It was the hard decisions of benching Ian White and sending Brian Lashoff back to the minors that seemed to really pay off.  Grouping Damien Brunner with Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson has given the team the secondary scoring threat needed to be a true contender for the cup.

The record doesn’t indicate how well the Wings played during the last month of the season.  Sure they won the last four to get in, but they’ve looked like the Wings of old over the past few weeks and have dominated games for long stretches with their puck possession style and smothering defense.

Although the roster as-is has been playing excellent hockey over the past two weeks, the return of veterans Mikael Samuelsson and Todd Bertuzzi could have a major impact later in the first round and moving forward.  With all of the injuries they’ve struggled through this season, the Red Wings are getting healthy at the right time.  Their depth will have a major impact on just how far they can go.

Mike Babcock will still have some tough decisions to make during this upcoming series with the Ducks.  Should he stick with the youth that got him here?  Or should he put his trust in veterans ready to return from injury?  It will be interesting to see if Bertuzzi will return sooner rather than later,  as his size seemingly will be needed against a bigger and more physical team.  I expect that no matter what decision coach Babcock makes, it will be the one that gives this team the best chance to win.

For the first time in over two decades, the Wings come into the playoffs under the radar as underdogs and it’s a position that may set them up for a deep run towards Lord Stanley’s Cup.  Remember that in the NHL, lower seeded teams regularly make deep runs in the playoffs.  It was just last season that the LA Kings won the cup as the 8th seed.  I believe that Anaheim is a perfect match up for the Wings and I expect it to be a long series that the Wings will take in six or seven games.

The Wings won the season series against the Ducks, winning both games in Anaheim and losing their only meeting at the Joe.

My prediction:  Wings in six games with Jimmy Howard being the MVP of the series.

Here’s some highlights from the Wings-Ducks match ups from this season.

Sam Plymale

Spike Albrecht will be a key for a Michigan victory. (pic courtesy of freep.com)

Spike Albrecht will be a key for a Michigan victory. (pic courtesy of freep.com)

It hasn’t only been national player of the year Trey Burke who has been key on Michigan’s run to the 2013 championship game.  There have been huge contributions from freshmen Mitch McGary, Caris LeVert and Glenn Robinson III.  In Monday’s title match against Louisville, another freshman may play a huge role.

Back-up point guard Spike Albrecht may be in line to get a ton of minutes and could be a big key if Michigan is to win their first title in 20 years.  Louisville is the type of team that loves to press and trap, and Albrecht’s ball handling could be a deciding factor if Cardinals coach Rick Pitino decides to continually send double teams and traps to Burke.  I anticipate Wolverines coach John Beilein to use both point guard for extended minutes to try and beat the press to get easy baskets for GR III and McGary.

Spike has played well in spurts  and played the most minutes against up-tempo VCU and Florida in this years tourney.  I expect to see him play at least 15 minutes tonight in relief of sharp-shooter Nick Stauskis.

My prediction for tonight’s game, 78-69 Michigan.

Sam Plymale

Abdelkader makes the hats fly in Anaheim. (courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Abdelkader makes the hats fly in Anaheim. (courtesy of the Canadian Press)

Although I’m as deep in Bracketville as 99 percent of sports-loving Americans, I happened to take notice of an important happening on the ice on Friday in Anaheim.  A couple of relatively invisible players reappeared, and the Red Wings showed that it may not only be the Tigers we should be excited about this Spring.

First off, I’m not the only one who has questioned Justin Abdelkader’s role on this team through the first half of this season.  But how could you not?  He was brutal playing on the third line, and as injuries mounted for the Red Wings, he was initially just as bad when grouped with play-maker extraordinaire Pavel Datsyuk.  But Mike Babcock saw something many of us didn’t, and Babcock’s patience looks as though it is paying off.

Abdelkader looked like a sniper against the Western Conference’s number 2 team on Friday.  His hattrick led the Wings to a 5-1 road win that keeps them in playoff position and major players in the West as the season heads towards the trade deadline.

Head Coach Mike Babcock has finally got Pav and Abby to click after inserting Johan Franzen on to the top line.  That line accounted for a collective 12 points in the win over the Ducks, and Franzen and Abdelkader both appear that they have a pulse and are ready to help the Wings keep their record playoff appearance alive.

It’s important that the Wings are firmly in playoff position as the trade deadline approaches. With the condensed schedule, more teams are still alive for a playoff run and less teams will be looking ahead to the 2013-2014 season..

It’s obvious to me that the Wings will be trying to shuffle the deck and will be looking to move a skilled forward for a solid top-four blue-liner in coming weeks.  If the Wings keep winning, I expect GM Ken Holland to be proactive in trying to move some of his young skill guys to make a serious run at the cup.  It’s possible, however, that those types of moves could be contingent on the health of Todd Bertuzzi and Darren Helm.

Either way, if the Wings are going to challenge the Hawks, Kings and the rest of the West, they are going to need big contributions from Abdelkader and Franzen.  Both players are physical and have had playoff success in the past.  Mike Babcock may have again made a brilliant move for the present instead of prematurely looking into the future.  Players like Tomas and Gustav Nyquist may have futures in the D, but it’s the tougher and more playoff ready players that are needed to supplement the skill of Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Brunner.

Well played Mike.

Sam Plymale

Tomas Tatar celebrates a goal. (courtesy of sportsoverdose.com)

Tomas Tatar celebrates a goal. (courtesy of sportsoverdose.com)

Although the Detroit Red Wings were unable to break the Chicago Blackhawks’ impressive winning streak on Sunday, the Wings continued to play consistent and competitive hockey.  The standings may not show it, but the Wings have finally looked competent on the blue line and are getting contributions from role players on the third and fourth lines.  The most notable contributions have been from Tomas Tatar, Brian Lashoff and Joakim Andersson, rookies that are only getting playing time in Detroit because of the rash of injuries that have taken place over the first two months of the season.

In professional sports, fringe players often have only one or two chances to prove themselves worthy of sticking on a roster.  Anderssson, Lashoff and Tatar are making their cases that they deserve to stay in Hockeytown.  The problem facing head coach Mike Babcock will be:  Who will get left off the starting roster when injured players start getting healthy?

It’s pretty obvious that Lashoff isn’t going anywhere.  At times this season, he has looked like the Wings’ best defensive option.  He has been solid with the puck by limiting turnovers and has even seen more than 20 minutes of ice time in a few games last month.  Upper management have taken notice by rewarding Lashoff with a three-year contract.  What happens up front is a bit more cloudy as we approach the homestretch of this season.  Mikael Samuelsson, Todd Bertuzzi, Valteri Filppula and Darren Helm are all too good to get left off the roster, and all are expected back before the end of the regular season.

So which players are in danger of losing a spot on this team?  Filppula and Helm appear to be between one and two weeks away from returning barring any setbacks, so for the sake of argument, let’s try and figure out the two players currently on the roster that will lose their spots.

These are the players that would be in danger of losing their spot:  Tatar, Andersson, Drew Miller, Patrick Eaves, Justin Abdelkader, Jordin Tootoo and Cory Emmerton.

To me, Tatar is the safest of all of these players.  His flashes of skill and his new found role on the secondary power play unit have solidified his spot on the roster.

Here’s an example of Tatar’s skill on display in a game against Saint Louis last month.

Andersson hasn’t been as impressive as Tatar, but his size and chemistry with Tatar would make it difficult for him to get sent back to Grand Rapids.  Emmerton has been effective as a penalty killer but may be expendable if Helm returns to form.

Justin Abdelkader may be in jeopardy of losing his job. (courtesy of nbcsports.com)

Justin Abdelkader may be in jeopardy of losing his job. (courtesy of nbcsports.com)

I believe the player that’s in the most trouble of losing his spot is Abdelkader.  He has made several critical turnovers, taken some questionable penalties and hasn’t been able to find the net, even when paired with play-maker extraordinaire Pavel Datsyuk.  In fact, Abdelkader has a team-worst -6 in +/-, and has zero goals and only one assist in 22 games.  His run in Detroit may be approaching an end.

The Red Wings have a chance to make a move in the standings over the next two weeks.  Their next six games are against the four worst teams in the Western Conference.  It will be interesting to see if the rookies continue to make their case to stay in Hockeytown as the Wings try and position themselves to make a 22nd consecutive playoffs.

Sam Plymale

John Beilein looks to regroup after last Tuesday embarrassment in East Lansing, (pic courtesy of AnnArbor.com)

John Beilein looks to regroup after last Tuesday’s embarrassment in East Lansing. (pic courtesy of AnnArbor.com)

If you watched Michigan State’s absolute domination of Michigan this past Tuesday in East Lansing, what I’m about to tell you may not make a whole lot of sense.  The Wolverines played their worst game since being upset by Ohio in last year’s NCAA Tournament.  The team who was ranked number 1 nationally just over a week ago looked more like the Michigan teams under Brian Ellerbe.  But even though Michigan looked terrible at MSU, the schedule down the stretch sets up perfectly for a legitimate run at a number 1 seed come March.

As of Saturday, the Wolverines have six games remaining in B1G play.  They have two games against Penn State (a team that is yet to win a conference game), a home game against Illinois, a road game at Purdue, a home game against the aforementioned Spartans and a big match-up at Crisler against the number 1 ranked Indiana Hoosiers.  Assuming that Michigan wins the four games not against ranked opponents, that leaves two revenge-style match-ups against the two teams ahead of them in the B1G standings.

Although wins over Indiana and MSU would be far from expected, there are rarely sweeps in big rivalry games in B1G play.  So even though Michigan was exposed this past week, they have a chance at retribution.  If U of M was able to win out (a big if), that would leave them at 27-4 with splits with OSU, IU and MSU.  Since all of these teams still play each other, there is a chance that U of M could catch the Spartans and Hoosiers who are two games up on the Wolverines in the conference standings.  If Michigan wins out and at least reaches the finals of the B1G tournament, they have to be considered for a 1 seed.  The B1G will get at least one number 1 seed in the tourney because they are the undisputed best conference in America.  They may get two depending on what takes place between Miami Duke in the ACC, whether Kansas is able to wrap up the Big 12 title and if Florida can win out in the SEC.

Over the past two seasons, Michigan has lived and died on the three-point shot.  Although they have been a bit more balanced due to the emergence of freshmen Glen Robinson III and Mitch McGary, both players have been inconsistent. I believe it’s imperative for head coach John Beilein to get junior Jordan Morgan back involved in the rotation.  Morgan has missed time with an ankle injury, but if he’s healthy, he has to play more.  His interior experience will be a huge key for upcoming rematches against the Hoosiers and Spartans.

My prediction, two B1G teams will get number 1 seeds.  Although on the surface it appears as though MSU and Indiana are the most likely candidates, Michigan’s schedule gives them a fighting chance.  If they have another performance like last Tuesday’s, they’ll have no chance.

Sam Plymale

Titus Young (courtesy of watercoolersports.com)

Titus Young (courtesy of watercoolersports.com)

The Detroit Lions recently released troubled wide receiver Titus Young, aging d-end Kyle Vanden Bosch and right guard Stephen Peterman.  KVB and Peterman were casualties of high cap numbers on aging players–according to NFL.com the Lions will save around $8 million in cap space.  Young however, is a different story.  The talented, but self-consumed Young had to be cut in an effort by head coach Jim Schwartz to regain respect in the locker room once again.

Young had become one of the most immature, diva-like personalities over the past two seasons in Detroit.  His antics rivaled those of a young Terrell Owens, but without the production.  Young’s last straw seemingly was when he intentionally lined up in the wrong position in a game against the Green Bay Packers last season.  This last show of complete disregard for team gave coach Schwartz no other option but to remove Young from the team.  Young also indulged in misguided Twitter rants, a claim that he was just as good as Calvin Johnson and a sucker punch of teammate Louis Delmas.  Young’s release was a long time coming.

Young’s departure, joined with the release of KVB and Peterman now open some glaring holes on the roster.  The Lions already had pressing needs in the defensive secondary and at the running back position, and with the probability of Cliff Avril moving on, defensive end becomes an even bigger need.  Some believe the clearing of KVB and Peterman may be a move to re-sign Avril, but I think that would be a mistake for how much he’ll cost.  It would cripple the Lions ability to fill other needs.  This will be decided on by March 12, the beginning of the league year and free agency.

The Lions don’t have a ton of cap space to bring in big name free agents this off-season, so it’s imperative that GM Martin Mayhew and the scouting department have not just a good draft in 2013, but a stellar one.  Knowing just how important this draft will be, the Lions recently hired Brian Xanders, who in some circles is considered a draft expert. Xanders most recently worked under John Elway and the Denver Broncos.  Just how much power Xanders has in the front office remains to be seen, but this move appears to have amped up pressure on Mayhew.

So will the 2013 season be the swan song for both Mayhew and Schwartz in Detroit?  Anything short of another playoff appearance and it may be another complete house-cleaning in Allen Park.  Here’s how I believe Mayhew and Schwartz will go about trying to salvage their jobs leading into next season:

  • With limited money to spend, it will be imperative that it’s spent in the right way.  With their glaring hole at WR, I’d like to see them go after a player like Danny Amendola who will be a UFA unless he re-signs with the Rams over the next few weeks.  He would be the perfect compliment to Calvin, and someone the fans of Detroit would fall in love with.  
  • Letting Avril walk and drafting a top pass rusher in this year’s draft seems to be the best strategy to win now.  Young pass rushers (see Jason Pierre-Paul of the Giants and Aldon Smith of the 49ers) have had huge impacts on Superbowl teams over the past few seasons.
  • Release center Dominic Raiola.  He’s been the heart and soul of the offensive line, but in order for the Lions to regain some semblance of a running game, they need more size out of the position.  Getting a younger and cheaper option would free up more money and hopefully be the first step to repairing the broken running game.
  • They must sign a veteran corner or safety who can have an immediate impact.  According to early projections, this year’s draft looks like a very shallow draft when it comes to secondary players.  That being said, the Lions secondary is so bad that they will be forced to use a second or third round pick on the position.  Adding a solid veteran play-maker to hold down the fort for some of the younger players is the only way the Lions pass defense will make any vast improvements this season.
  • The Lions must draft an X-factor running back/wide receiver/return specialist in the later rounds.  This means taking a risk on someone with speed that can line up in different spots for certain gadget plays.  The Lions offense became too predictable last season, and they’ve got to find ways to get speed in spots that are opening due to the triple coverage of Calvin Johnson.

These are just a few ideas.  The offensive line will also have to be addressed with either a cheap FA option or in the latter rounds of the draft.  Although last season was a nightmare, the Lions do still possess All-Pro caliber players on both sides of the ball.  Schwartz and Mayhew now need to add the right pieces around them and get everyone to buy in, and quickly.  The 2013 season appears to be a crossroads for this organization.  Is this going to be a bounce-back year that makes last season look like an anomaly to getting this organization contending for a Super Bowl?  Or is it the “same old Lions,” that  results in a complete house-cleaning and another rebuild?  Although I am hoping for the former, as a cynical Lions fan, I’m betting on the latter.

Sam Plymale

Most teams in the NHL are going to struggle with consistent play on a nightly basis.  This is even more evident in this year’s condensed season.  With teams playing several back-to-back games and some three games in four night stretches, consistency is going to be an issue. This has proved to be the case for the Detroit Red Wings, as the Wings lost 4-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Saturday just one day after an emotional win against the Saint Louis Blues.

The fact is that most teams playing on the second leg of a back to back are at a distinct disadvantage when playing a team that didn’t play the night before.  The good news is that the Wings will have the advantage of playing some teams who are on the second half of back-to-back games as the season moves through the month of March.  Until then, the Wings will have to endure two more back-to-backs in February.

(courtesy of NHL.com) Kronwall's consistency will be key for the Wings in 2013.

(courtesy of NHL.com) Kronwall’s consistency will be key for the Wings in 2013.

So far this season, the Wings most inconsistent play has come on the blue line.  It was expected that the Wings would struggle defensively, but no one could predict how injuries would play a role.  Four of the six anticipated starters have missed time due to injury, the latest being Brendan Smith, who will miss 3-4 weeks with a reported sprained shoulder.  Niklas Kronwall has had the spotlight on him, and fairly or unfairly, he has to fill the role of the retired Nicklas Lidstrom.  Krowall’s play has been spotty, but then again his anticipated partner Jonathan Ericsson has also been in and out of the lineup.  Kronwall has to play the role of a dominant play-making blue liner for the Wings to have a chance to contend.

It’s also no secret that the Wings will look to add another defender before the trading deadline.  With the emergence of forward Damien Brunner, I think that Valtteri Filppula could be a chip that GM Ken Holland could use to make a deal for an upgrade on the blue line.  Although Wings fans may be reluctant to give up Fil, the team’s strength is up the middle (barring any more injuries).  Filppula is a top six player on most teams and he’s young enough to garner interest from many clubs.  I’ll make sure to revisit this situation a little closer to the deadline.

The Wings have had solid play from the new captain Henrik Zetterberg and play-maker Pavel Datsyuk, and their scoring may be enough to keep the Wings in the playoffs again this season.  If the Wings want to be serious contenders for the cup, their going to need to add a piece on the blue line and have one of their youngsters step up as well.

The Wings take on Calgary tomorrow and Saint Louis again on Thursday.  They then have two day games at the Joe in another dreaded back-to-back scenario.  Saturday they welcome Edmonton and on Sunday the champs from LA will be in town.

Sam Plymale

The Detroit Red Wings are gearing up for the 2013 season.  Practices are being held this week at Compuware Arena in Plymouth and at Joe Louis Arena later this week.  Below are some observations from Monday’s practice at Compuware.

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Who looked ready:  Forward Patrick Eaves looked fast and ready to go after missing much of last season with a concussion.  No word if he will be officially cleared to start the regular season.  Henrik Zetterberg looks ready to have a big season.  He was all over the ice and ready to take more of a leadership role on the team (captain announcement coming soon!).  Ian White looks like he will see increased minutes on the power play as the Wings are still going to have to figure out how to divvy up minutes on the blue line with no Nick Lidstrom.  Damien Brunner looked like he may have a roll on this team.  He played fast and looked like a good fit with the other European players on the team.

Who looked out of place:  Newly acquired enforcer Jordin Tootoo looked lost at times during Monday’s practice.  He didn’t seem to socialize with many of the core players and looked confused on some drills.  It remains to be seen what kind of playing time he will see once the season gets underway, but he will be a factor due to his physical style of play.  I don’t think it will take fans very long to jump on the Tootoo train.  (Just no whistles please).  With Thomas Holmstrom retired, it appeared that Dan Cleary will try and move into Homer’s office in front of the net.  He was working on hand-eye coordination for a good portion of practice.  It will take time for Cleary to adjust his game if this is the roll he is looking to play.

Who wasn’t there:  Pavel Datsyuk reportedly was to arrive in Detroit from Russia on Monday.  He didn’t arrive in time for practice.  No word on if he’ll play in tomorrow’s scheduled scrimmage against Grand Rapids.  Mikael Samulesson sat out of practice with a slight groin pull, (I was looking forward to hearing more pucks slam off the glass).  And Darren Helm was also held out of practice due to a back injury.  The Wings will need Helm to fill a huge roll this season, as his speed and defensive play will likely see him matching up against one of the opposing teams top two centers on a nightly basis.

Although I didn’t get an exact count, I would say that there were around 500 people at Compuware to watch the practice on Monday.  (Not bad for a Monday at noon)  The players honored fans at the end of practice by acknowledging them by raising their sticks and slapping them on the ice.  The players got a standing ovation.  The Red Wings and the  Grand Rapids Griffins will play in the Red-White scrimmage before traveling to St. Louis to take on the Blues on Saturday.  The scrimmage starts Tuesday at 6 p.m. at Compuware Arena and is free of charge to fans.  Below is some video from Monday’s practice.

Sam Plymale

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