The Detroit Red Wings host the Buffalo Sabres this evening (7:30 PM EST on FSD/MSG B/97.1 FM) with the Wings hosting one of the few teams they don’t look up toward in the standings…but the bottom isn’t that far away.
The 17-32-and-11 Sabres sit only 12 points behind the Wings at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, and just as a “good run” can propel the Wings toward playoff position, a bad stretch would send the Wings careening down the standings.
With the notable exceptions of Jake McCabe (shoulder surgery) and Jack Eichel (ankle sprain), the Sabres are relatively healthy now that Robin Lehner has returned from a hip injury, as WGR 550’s Paul Hamilton reported:
The Sabres just wrapped up a stretch of 11 games in 21 days, so Phil Housley just brought them in to stretch on Tuesday.
Two players did hit the ice as Robin Lehner took shots from Nick Baptiste. Lehner has been nursing a hip injury and sat out Monday’s game. The goaltender said, “I feel pretty good today, I’ve had a couple of days after I had a hip injection and I just needed a day.
“I pulled my one hip earlier in the season. I’ve been a little bit back and forth as I pulled it against Colorado and I just kept going through it and eventually, I just needed to fix it.”
Lehner wanted to try to play through it. He said, “100-percent, all players in this league have something and a lot of goalies have something with their lower body here and there and still play quite a bit of games, so I just needed to take care of it fast.”
Buffalo, like Detroit, is a trade deadline “seller,”and Evander Kane was…himself…while addressing the probability of his status as a trade deadline rental with the Buffalo News’s John Vogl:
When Evander Kane turns on the charm, he owns the room. There was no doubt the Buffalo Sabres’ dressing room belonged to him Wednesday.
Kane knows he has to make the most of it while he can. As the minutes ticked toward Monday’s NHL trade deadline and the left winger’s inevitable departure, his megawatt smile and wit were on full display. Kane is among the most talked-about players in the league at the moment, and it was wondered if he follows the chatter on social media.
“Heavily on it,” he said in a droll, sarcastic tone, “every five seconds. Refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, refreshing, refreshing. I love the hockey critics, especially the guys with the fake profiles. Are those the bots now? You know, the robots? I love it, you know? It’s just great. Just criticizing my play, what I’m doing, what I’m not. It’s awesome, so I refresh, I try to stay up to date.”Kane actually does follow Canadian hockey journalists Pierre LeBrun and Darren Dreger.“They send out those friendly reminders that there’s going to be some fake profiles out there, right?” Kane said in KeyBank Center. “I think I’ve seen a few of those. Obviously, I’m aware of what’s going on. I have social media. Do I spend all day looking at it? Absolutely not. But who knows? I know guys who have found out via social media before anybody else knows.”All he knows for sure is it will be reported by 3 p.m. Monday that he’s been traded.“Yeah, if you guys are waiting for me to say it,” he said before heading to Detroit for Thursday’s game. “It’s been talked about. It’s been documented. It’s unfortunate, but it’s the situation we’re in and part of the business. I’m not thinking about it right now too much. I’m trying to focus on the games that we have left before that deadline. We’ll deal with the move when it happens.”
Phil Housley was traded many times as a player. He knows what they’re feeling in the locker room, “Your first trade is always difficult, but I always felt it was easier getting traded in the summer because you’re in the midst of trying to find a place to live, trying to get to your surroundings and get comfortable you know, doctors and schools for your kids, so that’s always the difficult part of it.”
Josh Gorges has played for San Jose, Montreal and Buffalo so he’s been traded twice. Gorges is 33-years-old and could provide some depth on the blue line for a playoff team. He said when thinking about trades, it’s all about his family, that’s what makes this a nervous time, “Yes, I think it is, but for myself, the biggest thing is you think about your family because everything is up in the air, it’s out of my control and I can’t do anything about it, but if something does happen, you don’t see your wife, you don’t see your kids, they’re by themselves, it’s tough on her, so that’s what I think about in this situation. Any player would love to be in an opportunity to win the Cup, especially not having that opportunity yet, but a lot of what I do now in my life is based upon my family and what’s best for them.”
Sabres captain Ryan O’Reilly told Hamilton that the team’s job is to worry about hat it can control, which isn’t much:
Ryan O’Reilly likely isn’t going to be moved, but he’s lived through trade deadlines in Buffalo and Colorado. He said as teammates, they help each other get through the deadline, “When we’re having a season like we are, it’s frustrating, you don’t know what’s going to happen. It’s a tough thing in the game of hockey, but we just take it one day at a time and focus on the next day. It’s going to happen, so whatever is going on, we must stick together.”
Just like Kane, O’Reilly know what’s being said, He said, “You hear rumors that fly around, but it’s just something that happens. It’s just part of the game.”
In a slightly ironic twist, BuffaloSabres.com’s Jourdon LaBarber reports that former Red Wings forward Scott Wilson is starting to find his stride as a Sabre:
On the eve of his return to Detroit – Wilson seems to have found his comfort zone. The forward has three goals and two assists in his last six games and 10 points (5+5) overall since joining the Sabres. He had been held without a point in 20 games prior to his trade to Buffalo.
“I think finally being able to play a little bit with a team for longer than a couple weeks has really gone a long way,” Wilson said. “I’m starting to really learn the systems. At the same time, when you’re just working hard out there, trying to do the right things, you get some bounces.”
Indeed, simplicity has been a key to Wilson’s recent success. Earlier in the season, he explained, he was almost working too hard to create scoring opportunities as opposed to doing things right and letting the chances create themselves.
He finally scored his first goal in Winnipeg on Jan. 5, and then added a second while playing on a line with Ryan O’Reilly and Sam Reinhart in Calgary on Jan. 22. Those helped him get his confidence back.
“Kind of at the beginning, I almost wanted it too badly,” he said. “Just finding open shots, being patient and shooting a lot more, you create a lot of stuff from just shooting the puck. I’ve been getting points from doing that so I’m going to continue to do that.”
There’s no question that Wilson has had more opportunity in Buffalo than he had in Detroit – he’s averaging 12:15 of ice time with the Sabres as opposed to 7:28 with the Red Wings – but he’s also taken matters into his own hands by shooting the puck when he’s had the opportunity. Wilson has put at least one shot on goal in all but two of his 19 games since the beginning of January. He’s taken three or more shots six times in that span, including two five-shot performances.
The Sabres’ website is very thorough, and they posted a video practice report…
9 Evander Kane – 90 Ryan O’Reilly – 23 Sam Reinhart
28 Zemgus Girgensons – 71 Evan Rodrigues – 21 Kyle Okposo
20 Scott Wilson – 22 Johan Larsson – 29 Jason Pominville
67 Benoit Pouliot – 10 Jacob Josefson – 13 Nicholas Baptiste (17 Jordan Nolan)
40 Robin Lehner
31 Chad Johnson
STATS posted a game preview that will serve as our pivot point between the Sabres and Red Wings’ perspectives:
Both teams are out of the playoff picture and are sellers as the Feb. 26 trade deadline nears. That process has already begun for Detroit, which dealt goaltender Petr Mrazek to the Philadelphia Flyers on Monday for a conditional fourth-round pick in the 2018 draft and a conditional third-round pick in 2019.
The Red Wings say they will continue to play hard and to win.
“Definitely, we are not going to fold up,” goalie Jimmy Howard said after Tuesday night’s 3-2 loss to the Nashville Predators in Detroit.
Said coach Jeff Blashill: “My job is to coach and try and win hockey games. I’m a huge believer in controlling what you can control. I don’t control anything to do with (trades). All I control is our effort and how prepared we are and how hard we play.”
Both teams have a remaining player who is expected to be moved by the trade deadline. For the Red Wings, it is veteran defenseman Mike Green, who is in the third year of a three-year, $18 million contract and for the Sabres, it is left winger Evander Kane, who is in the final year of a six-year, $31.5 million deal he signed when he was a member of the Winnipeg Jets.
Green has missed the last three games with an upper-body injury but is expected to return on Thursday.
As the Red Wings held an optional skate on Wednesday, coach Jeff Blashill provided an update on Green’s status to the Detroit News’s Ted Kulfan…
Speaking of the trade deadline, defenseman Mike Green (upper body) remains a question mark for Thursday’s game against Buffalo Green has missed the last three games, though he has skated this week and was optimistic he’d be in the lineup against the Sabres.
“I’ll know that answer (Thursday),” Blashill said of Green’s availability.
Green is the most likely Red Wings player to be dealt before Monday’s deadline. He’s a potential unrestricted free agent July 1, and has several teams extremely interested in him as a rental acquisition.
Blashill feels there’s no extra concern about playing, or not playing, Green with the deadline days away.
“Not for me, not for him,” Blashill said. “We’re in a business of trying to win hockey games, he’s in business to be the best player he can be, so for me and him the focus is 100 percent on winning a game against Buffalo.”
And Blashill spoke at some length about his job at this time of year:
“For the most part we’re going to go business as usual; that’s our job,” Blashill said. “Our job is not worry about speculation. I don’t live in a speculation world. I deal with facts, and I know the team I have available to me. That can always change. I spent three years in the minors, and it changed all the time for various reasons. But we’re able to compartmentalize and focus on the task at hand.”
Blashill is kept abreast of any possible player movement by general manager Ken Holland — a perfect example being early this week when goaltender Petr Mrazek was traded to Philadelphia. Holland is mindful, Blashill said, of the job of a coach.
“He has the respect of anybody who has ever worked with him for 30-plus years,” Blashill said. “He has great respect in the hockey world because of the type of manager and person he is. He understands both sides of it. We have a job to do, and our job is to win hockey games and his job is manage for tomorrow and the future. I respect what his job is and he what my job is, and we go about our business.”
Blashill also spoke with Hockeybuzz’s Bob Duff regarding the deadline, as did several Wings players:
“I’ve moved my family, I don’t know, eight times or something,” Blashill said. “It’s hard. I don’t care whether you’re moving away from your family – you wouldn’t move them in-season – but it’s just a hard thing. So that’s the part that gets missed a little bit.”
As the talk ramps up, Blashill makes a point to monitor those players who find themselves in the crosshairs of the trade targets.
“I’ll have conversations with guys that are in that spot or in that rumor mill or in that position where they could potentially be a guy that might get traded, just make sure they’re doing all right,” Blashill said. “Last year, (Thomas) Vanek was definitely one, Smitty (Brendan Smith), where you just have conversations to make sure they’re doing OK at that point, especially if I see a guy struggling a little bit mentally. The one part I think gets forgotten about because they’re professional athletes is the human side of it, and it’s hard.”
In terms of individual player discussion, Blashill and Anthony Mantha also discussed by #39’s attempts to learn how to go to the net on a more consistent basis so that he might score more goals. DetroitRedWings.com’s Dana Wakiji penned an article about Mantha’s learning curve:
“Habits are taught in numerous ways,” Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. “They’re taught through repetition in practice. They’re taught through conversation. They’re taught through video. They’re taught through immediate consequence from when you do and when you don’t. We’re in the business of training habits here. I think he’s really done a good job of getting to the net. He’s learned a lot of those things and he’s continuing to learn some of the nuances of being around it.
“Him and I had a conversation yesterday. He’s got 20 goals on the year, 10 of which were either rebounds or tips in front of the net. Now, he would have scored some if he wasn’t net-front on the power play in different areas, but maybe five. He’s not probably got 10 at that point. That’s an easy way to get lots of goals, so let’s keep getting good at it.”
Blashill has shown Mantha video clips of Toronto’s James van Riemsdyk, who scored shortly after Mantha did in the second period, and has become a net-front mainstay.
“We kind of looked at each other after he scored his and I scored mine, just being like, ‘You want to get this going? Alright, let’s do it,'” Mantha said. “He’s one of the good ones also in the league and obviously I’ve looked at a lot of clips of him.”
In van Riemsdyk’s second season in the league, he scored 21 goals in 75 games. Mantha has 20 in 57 games.
The Wings’ last opponent, the Nashville Predators, had another example for Blashill to show Mantha.
“I went in his office and he showed me a couple of clips,” Mantha said. I think it was (Colton) Sissons in Nashville, how he was net-front against Ottawa. He showed me two clips. Sissons didn’t even touch the puck but the team scored, so it’s just little details that I’m trying to get better at. Right now, I’m not sure what the percentage is, but as soon as I’m inside 20 feet of that net and I get a scoring chance, it’s pretty much there.”
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 21, 2018
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 21, 2018