Well, here we are. Caps…Red Wings. The last two undefeated teams in the NHL. The Caps, of course, are in uncharted territory, having already set a franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season. Detroit is in kind of rare air, too. The Red Wings can tie a franchise record for consecutive wins to start a season with a win in this game. The Wings won six in a row to start the 1972-1973 season. And October 22nd is the 39th anniversary of that sixth consecutive win to start the season, a 6-2 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Contrary to what fans might think, Nicklas Lidstrom did not play in that game. He was only two years old. But tonight he will play in his 1,500th game, and although he is 41 years old, Lidstrom shows little signs of slowing down. Last night, for instance, he was 1-1-2, plus-2, with two hits and three takeaways in almost 24 minutes of ice time in a 5-2 win against Columbus. Some other fun facts about Lidstrom…
-- When Lidstrom was born on April 28, 1970, The Beatles were still together (their last album – “Let It Be” – was released a little more than a week later).
-- Lidstrom was drafted in the third round (53rd overall) in the 1989 entry draft on June 17, 1989. Neither John Carlson nor Marcus Johansson of the Caps had yet been born.
-- In that 1989 draft the Caps passed on Lidstrom twice, opting for goalies with the two picks they had before Lidstrom was taken – Olaf Kolzig and Byron Dafoe.
-- The Red Wings passed on Lidstrom twice as well, going for Mike Sillinger with the 11th overall pick and Bob Boughner with the 32nd overall pick.
-- That’s okay; the Wings passed on Sergei Fedorov to take Lidstrom with the 53rd pick. They took Fedorov at 74th overall. That draft might have been the most successful for one team in NHL history. The Red Wing picks in that draft have played almost 5,900 regular season games in the NHL, and counting.
-- Lidstrom was picked between Blair Atcheynum (Hartford) and John Tanner (Quebec). Combined NHL games played, 217.
-- Lidstrom himself is now in his 20th season. In addition to the 1,500-game mark he is about to achieve, he has…four Stanley Cups, a Conn Smythe Trophy (first European player to win it), seven Norris Trophies (one behind Bobby Orr), ten first team NHL All Star selections, and five pages of his own in the Red Wings media guide.
It’s not as if Lidstrom is the only spark plug in this engine. The Red Wings aren’t 5-0-0 by accident. They are skilled, deep, balanced, and experienced. Their numbers bear that out…
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Detroit is second in the NHL in scoring, behind the Caps. Of the 19 skaters to take the ice for the Red Wings this season, 17 of them have points but only two with more than five. Ten of them have goals but only one with more than two. No player is on the minus side of the ledger.
This is a team on which it is expected that youngsters will pay their dues in terms of serving an apprenticeship. The Red Wings have not had more than one rookie play in at least half the club’s games in a season since Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula played in 76 and 73 games, respectively, in the 2006-2007 season. And no more than two rookies played in that many games in the last dozen seasons. At the moment, Cory Emmerton is the only rookie on the roster for Detroit, and he seems typical of the arc that Red Wing prospects take to the NHL. A second round pick in 2006, he spent three-plus seasons with Grand Rapids in the NHL (the last of which included a two-game cup o’ coffee with the Wings) before sticking with the team at the start of this season.
Red and White, Blue and Yellow
So far this season, 54 players born in Sweden have played in at least one NHL game. Six of them have played for the Red Wings – Johan Franzen, Nicklas Lidstrom, Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, and Jonathan Ericsson. This group accounts for half of the Red Wings’ 18 goals so far. Six is not a record for the Wings, though. As recently as 2009-2010 they had eight skaters born in Sweden dress for at least one game, and they had nine dress in 2007-2008.
Of the 21 players taking the ice so far for Detroit this season, 14 of them were drafted by the Red Wings. And of that group, only two – Jakub Kindl and Niklas Kronwall – are first round draft picks. By round, the other picks are : second (4), third (3), fifth (1), sixth (1), seventh (1), ninth (1), and tenth (1).
Power Play With a Bullet
Going into last night’s game, the Red Wings were 29th in the league on the power play (1-for-19; 5.3 percent). When they were done carving up the Columbus penalty killers for three goals on five chances, the Wings jumped to 15th in the league. Oddly enough, they scored three power play goals in four chances in a total of only 3:10 of 5-on-4 ice time, but didn’t score in 1:51 of 5-on-3 time.
Frequent Flyer (Not the Team) Miles
Ian White is one of those odd Wings not drafted by the club. He was, in fact, drafted by Toronto in 2002. After spending some more time in Canadian juniors and the AHL, he joined the Leafs for a short stint in 2005-2006 (12 games) and then stuck with the big club in 2006-2007. He might made it a long career in Toronto, but it was not in the cards. White was traded in January 2010 as part of a seven player deal with Calgary that secured Dion Phaneuf for the Maple Leafs. It would be the start of a phase of White’s life in which realtors would figure heavily. The following November, after having inked a one-year deal with Calgary, he was traded to Carolina. February 2011…traded to San Jose. July 2011…he signs with Detroit. Five teams in 18 months.
The Peerless’ Players to Ponder
Detroit: Ty Conklin
Even though Jimmy Howard started, finished, and won last night’s game against Columbus (32 saves on 34 shots in the 5-2 win), he could get the call tonight. It’s not as if he’s been getting worn out. Last night was the Wing’s first game in almost a week, since beating Minnesota in overtime last Saturday. But if Howard does get the baseball cap, Ty Conklin would be getting his second start of the season. Given that this is the Wings we are talking about, it should not be surprising that Conklin’s only appearance so far is a shutout, a 3-0 win at Colorado two weeks ago. Conklin has carved out for himself a long career being the supporting actor, the reliable backup. Only once has he played in as many as 40 games in a season (coincidentally, in his first tour with the Red Wings in 2008-2009). But by the same token, only once in nine NHL seasons did he finish with a below-.500 record (3-5-2 with Columbus and Buffalo in 2006-2007). His 92-61-20 win-loss record over those nine seasons reflect his talent to come into games on an infrequent basis and give his club solid goaltending. He might be a backup, but he is not a liability. In four career games against the Caps he is 1-2-1, 3.06, .889.
Washington: Jeff Schultz
In the last three games between these teams the Red Wings have scored a total of only seven goals. And of that number Jeff Schultz was on the ice for only one of them. A fluke? Well, so far this season, of 211 defensemen having dressed for games, only 33 have been on the ice for fewer goals than Schultz, who has been on ice for only two of the 13 goals allowed by Washington so far. And of those 33 defensemen on ice for fewer goals, 19 of them have played in only one or two games. Schultz isn’t going to win any style points (or, it seems, much credit from Caps fans). He is never going to be a big hitter, and he can seem a bit ungainly on his skates. But bad things don’t generally happen when he is on the ice, and above all, that is the object of the exercise for a defenseman. In this game, that has to continue.
1. Early Pressure. No team has allowed fewer first period goals so far than the Red Wings, part of how it is that no team has allowed fewer goals than Detroit, period. Teams have not been successful moving the Wings out of their comfort zone and forcing them to play from behind. Only once this season have the Wings fallen behind by more than one goal in a game. It happened to be the only time they were taken to overtime (they beat Minnesota, 3-2, after spotting the Wild two goals). Once taking a lead in a game, they have not relinquished it at any further point in that game.
2. Kill Fil. Valtteri Filppula is hot. 2-5-7, plus-4 in his last three games, including a four-point night last night against Columbus. Currently tied for the club scoring lead, he is not too shabby against the Caps, either – 1-5-6, plus-3 in five career games against Washington.
3. Turn Off the Power. The Wings started the season 0-for-18 on the power play. They are now four for their last six chances. If there is one area that the Caps can be said to have underperformed so far, it is penalty-killing. They are tied for 15th in the league going into this game. The saving grace is that only three teams have faced fewer shorthanded situations. Unfortunately, one of those teams is Detroit, which has faced the fewest such situations (15 in five games).
In the end, it is way to early to call this a potential preview of a Stanley Cup final. What it is, is two teams near the top of their respective games. They are two teams that dealt with early shortcomings – the Wings and their power play, the Caps and allowing teams to hang around too long – and have, at least for the time being, dealt with them. This is not likely to be a high-scoring game. Although they are the two top scoring teams in the league, the Wings are tops in defense (1.40 goals allowed/game), and the Caps have been even stingier in their last four games (1.25) after allowing eight in their first two contests. This game could turn on whose backside is more effective screening a goaltender – Tomas Holmstrom for the Wings or Troy Brouwer for the Caps. “B” comes before “H.”
Caps 2 – Red Wings 1