The Wings win again, are undefeated, and play in the championship game tonight against the defending champion Buffalo Sabres.
Hoo boy, was this game full excitement, drama, and winning! The first period was scoreless, and as the second period wore on, the players grew restless and things got pretty chippy. From my perch directly above the player benches, I was privy to all kinds of insult, taunts, and interesting altercations. There were 16 penalties in the second period including a Tyler Bertuzzi/Dane Fox fight and Tomas Jurco and Joel Edmundson receiving double minor roughing penalties at the end of the period.
Ouellet's goal came from the blue line right after a faceoff win by Nastasiuk, and 17 seconds later, Nicholas Walters had the puck in his own zone, whiffed his shot, and Nastasiuk skate in, stole the puck, skated in on the goalie with both Blues defensemen behind him, and scored to give the Wings a 2-0 lead. Once the Wings took a two goal lead late in the second, things really got interesting. Edmundson was ushered back to the Blues bench because he was standing on the ice in front of the Wings bench trying to get someone to come off the bench and fight with him. "Come on, let's go, you want to go, let's go right now... Let's go in the third" he taunted. Finally Coach Blashill yelled "get outta here, are you gonna get out of here now!" The ref's were very vocal with the players and their benches, trying to make sure they kept things under control. With all the pushing, shoving, scrumming, and extracurriculars going on, the last two and a half minutes of the period took about seven minutes to complete.
The third period wasn't as explosive as the end of the second indicated it might be, but it was exciting none the less. The Blues scored first in this period on a power play goal, but the Wings struck back 4 minutes later on a 4-3 power play goal of their own. As soon as St Louis took their second penalty, Blashill called a timeout, drew up a play on the board, and whatever he drew must have been pretty good, because a beautiful Jurco slapper from the faceoff circle found the back of the net. Anthony Mantha must have felt left out of the scoring, so he beat the Blues player to a loose puck and shot it into the empty net. Bingo Bango as Mickey would say. The Wings kept themselves composed (relatively anyway) and didn't let the Blues drag them down to their level. When I think of this team as a whole, the term "hard working" keeps coming to mind. The Minnesota game was the easiest one so far, but it wasn't easy by any means. This team has had to work their collective tails off, especially in the last two games, and when under pressure and being pushed by the opposition, this mini Wings team keeps their heads, works harder, sticks together, and finds ways to win. Additionally, this is all without Nick Jensen, who I think is probably out top D prospect right now.
Fun tidbit- Xavier Ouellet is always the one who waits on the ice right next to the bench and glove taps everyone as they head off the ice at the end of the game and at the end of warm-ups. Richard Nedomlel seems like he's a character, and he'll skate by during practice or warm-ups and yell "Yeeeaahhh Booooyyyy" and other strange sounding words or phrases that I can't quite catch. At the end of the game, I actually laughed out loud when he chest bumped Xavier Ouellet at the end of the game.
2nd Period- First Wings Goal (Ouellet from Pulkkinen and Nastasiuk) is at 29:10 Second Wings goal (Nastasiuk from Hudon) is at 30:03
3rd Period- First St Louis goal PP (Wannstrom from Edmundson and Carrier) is at 15:25 Third Wings goal PP (Jurco from Sproul and Ouellet) is at 22:34 Fourth Wings goal EN (Mantha) is at 29:55
- Tomas Jurco Scored a goal! At first, he had me a tad confused. He had played well so far but I haven't yet seen the offensive, creative, dominant Tomas Jurco I'm accustomed to seeing in Grand Rapids. It seems that he's playing a little different role than he usually does, but now I think that's exactly what Coach Blashill wants form him, and what he wants to prove. Jurco's come a long, long, looong way from the player he was at the start of the Griffins season last October and though he struggled through the first half of the Griffins season and even rode the pine for short times, he really started his upward climb about the mid way mark of the season. By the playoffs, Jurco was absolutely dominant and showed that he could take over a game and seemingly tilt the ice by sheer will and determination. So far in the Prospect Tournament, Jurco hasn't been the star of the show, as he often has been, rather he's been a leader on the ice, communicating and giving instructions to his teammates to help keep the line on the ice operating like a well oiled machine. Despite being all of 20 years old, he's one of the veterans on the team and his leadership skills have been on display. Jurco's playing on the live with Sheahan and Pulkkinen. Part of being a great player is knowing what role needs to be filled at any given time, and being willing to fill that role when needed. Pulkkinen has a lot of offensive abilities, but it's his defensive game that needs some work, and Sheahan has been contributing a lot more offensively than he did in Grand Rapids. I've noticed that there seems to be a strategy of having one of the forwards hang back and cover, or be prepared to cover, defensively. With Sheahan and Pulkkinen carrying the bulk of the offense on that line, Juco has been that man on his line. Despite his immense skills, he gladly takes on whatever role he's needed in. Tomas Jurco may not be a star on the stat sheet right now, but he's playing an important role on the team and while he may not be the star of the show right now, that doesn't diminish his crucial contributions to the team. The Red Wings expect their forwards to be defensively sound, and that philosophy is carried on in Grand Rapids. Jurco is a testament to the team first mentality that Blashill instills in each player and he wasn't to prove to his coaches , the Wings, and himself, that he can be relied on to be defensively responsibly, not only as an offensive magician.
- Every time I see Marek Tvrdon, he looks more comfortable, looser, and more able to let his characteristics show. He's skating smoother and faster, he looks more comfortable handling the puck, and there's less and less rust every time he hits the ice. Injuries have unfortunately caused Tvrdon to miss a lot of hockey in the last few years, so it's been difficult to get a really good read on his progress as a player. He didn't get on the score sheet tonight, but he had chances and was much, much more the Marek Tvrdon I've heard so many good things about. He looked better in this game than I've ever seen him.
- Well Helloooo Anthony Mantha! In three games he's progressed from looking lost, to looking remarkably like a first round draft pick. He looks more comfortable and less overwhelmed with each practice and game. He knew where he was, what he was doing, and he knew how to do it. He had a couple decent scoring chances, was going to the net, and just looked overall much more in sync with the game. He then capped off the Wings 2 goal lead with an empty netter with less than 2 minutes to go in the game.
- Calle Jarnkrok is pretty damn good at this hockey thing. I have to chuckle that his name literally translates to "Iron Hook" because on the ice and the bench, he's so quiet and unassuming. When I watch him, I don't identify one thing that he's really really good at. I watch him and I'm in awe that he's good at everything. Do you need someone to man the point on the power play, help kill penalties? Skate like nobody's business, make beautiful passes, shoot the puck, be offensive yet also defensively responsibly? Iron Hook can do that! Each game he gets better and more comfortable with the game and his confidence seems to be growing as well.
- Philippe Hudon was a healthy scratch for the first two games, and I thought it was a little bit odd that he was scratched so that two free agent tryouts could play, but I guess somebody had to sit in order for the coaches to get a look at the tryouts. Hudon isn't a superstar kind of player, he's more of a bottom 6 grinder, and for the role that he's expected to play, he did pretty well in his first game. He's not overly physical, but he's not timid either. He got an assist on Nastasiuk's goal and was a +2 on the night
- Tyler Bertuzzi can be a good hockey player, he's a surprisingly good skater, he's good in front of the net, he works hard, and he can be a good playmaker. He has these tools, but too often he gets caught up with the pest part of his game, and uses the wrong set of tools. He's made some progress already, and I think he'll learn how to be the player he can be.
- There may have been steam coming out of Alexei Marchenko's ears this morning as he tried to think his way through the drills. Everything I've heard about Marchenko indicates that he's a very smart defenseman and I've seen flashes of it, but it seems as though something's scrambling the signal in his brain. I don't know why he's having such a difficult time in his big whopping two games so far, but I hope he's able to get it sorted out soon. I'm far from passing any judgment on him based on only one development camp and 3 tournament games, but from the little bit I've seen so far, I'm going to temper my expectations a little and see how he progresses this season. Some players adjust quickly, and other take more time to make the transition. Tomas Jurco in the AHL and Gustav Nyquist in the NHL are examples of players taking more time to adjust and figure things out that many originally expected.
- Xavier Ouellet notched a goal and an assist last night, is tied for second on the team in shots on goal, tied for second in points, second in +/-. We're only talking about 3 games, but compared to his teammates in the same 3 games, that's pretty darn good for a rookie defenseman who's also pretty good defensively.
- Ryan Sproul had an assist last night, is third on the team in shots on goal, also tied for second in points, and leads the team in +/-. I think he realized after the first game that he's not experienced enough at this level to make as many risky plays as he did in the OHL. I like that Blashill has he and Ouellet paired together at even strength, because I think they'll be paired together a lot in Grand Rapids and they're already developing some chemistry and communicating well with each other on the ice.
- Jake Paterson had players all over him all night, both friend and foe, but that didn't faze him at all, and he stopped 22 out of 23 shots. At one point he was down on the ice, there were at least 7 players all over him, bodies everywhere, yet he still managed to find the puck amid the chaos and cover it. He didn't get rattled, frustrated, or upset, he stayed calm, cool, and collected. His puck handling skills were also on display when he made a tape to tape goal line to blue line pass while the Wings were on the Power Play. Paterson is only 19 years old, and plays for the Saganaw Spirit of the OHL. This is competition far above what he's used to playing against, and the speed of the game is much faster than the OHL, yet he looks composed, competent, and like he belongs. When I'm watching him, I quickly forget his age and lack of experience, because he's that good. In two games played, Paterson has allowed a total of 2 goals and has a SV% of .955