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Happy 94th birthday, NHL! For you, I am thankful.

Happy 94th birthday to the National Hockey League! For you, I am thankful.  Yesterday was the first Discover NHL Thanksgiving Showdown: an Original Six matchup between the Boston Bruins (2011 Stanley Cup champions) and the infamous, 11-time Stanley Cup champions, Detroit Red Wings.  The Red Wings gave us more to be thankful for by putting an end to the Bruins’ 10-game winning streak with a 3-2 shootout victory at TD Garden.  I was super disappointed by the lack of “Pierre-ness” but I’m not worried… I’m sure we’ll hear plenty on Wednesday when the Wings/Lightning game is aired on VERSUS.

1st Period Highlights:

  • Ian White got the puck to Henrik Zetterberg, who made some fantastic passes back and forth with Valtteri Filppula, resulting in a 1-0 lead (12:43). This is what happens when Fil shoots — the puck ends up in the back of the net.

2nd Period Highlights:

  • Jimmy Howard went behind the net to gather the puck and ended up moving a little too slow for Nathan Horton and Daniel Paille (4:05), who tied the game at 1
  • 35 seconds later (4:40), while the audience was still celebrating the Bruins’ goal, a little Mule/Bert/Datsyuk magic spoiled the party. After receiving the puck from Bertuzzi, Datsyuk kicked the puck from his skate to his stick and then BOOM…it’s in.
  • Pierre McGuire discussed his interview with Ian White, asked about his face: “he said ‘it’s fine–until someone touches it'”  … Please stay at least 30 feet away from our defenseman, Pierre.

3rd Period Highlights:

  • Patrice Bergeron tied the score with an unassisted wrist shot (7:52) making things a little more difficult for the good guys
  • After Chara got frustrated by Datsyuk’s high level of skill, he used his big, gumpy body to try and cause some damage to the magic man.  It didn’t work out exactly how Chara planned—Datsyuk went after Chara and slammed him into the boards yielding this comment:

“What a job by Pavel Datsyuk! We talk about him being for the Selke as the best defensive forward…how about for the league MVP?!”

Overtime/Shootout:

  • Nothing during the 4-on-4 so it went into a shoot out
  • Howard shut down Seguin, Datsyuk made us proud. Howard shut down Peverley, Hudler disappoints. Horton made us nervous, Bertuzzi saved the day. The End.

 

Tonight:

The Detroit Red Wings take on SMASHville at 7:00 at the Joe Louis Arena…stay tuned!

Fresh Faces: Ty Conklin

This edition of Fresh Faces will look at free agent signee Ty Conklin, who is back for his second stint with the Red Wings. The 35 year old veteran will battle Joey MacDonald for the job of backing up starting goaltender Jimmy Howard.

Conklin was born in Arizona but raised in Alaska. He is the only goaltender from Alaska to ever play in the NHL. Upon completion of his career at the University of New Hampshire, Conklin was signed as an undrafted rookie by the Edmonton Oilers. He spent four years in between the NHL and various minor league teams, recording his then best season with Edmonton in 2003-04 with 17 wins.

Conklin was thrust into duty during the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals following an injury to starter Dwayne Roloson. The Oilers went on to blow a three goal lead, and Conklin committed a critical error on the game winning goal with just 30 seconds left. He would sit the remainder of the series, which the Oilers lost in seven games.

Following another unproductive season between two different organizations, many began to wonder if Conklin would ever recover from the 2006 disaster. The Pittsburgh Penguins signed him to a minor league deal in July of 2007. Following an injury to starter Marc-Andre Fleury, Conklin was recalled to the NHL.

It was here when Conklin resurrected his NHL career, winning nine straight starts including the Winter Classic that season. He would finish with a 18-8-5 record and a franchise record .923 save percentage that season. Upon Fleury’s return from injury, Conklin was commended for his leadership in the locker room, and considered a big factor in the Penguins deep playoff run that season. They would eventually lose to his next team, the Detroit Red Wings, in a six game Stanley Cup Final.

Conklin would split time with starter Chris Osgood in the 2008-09 season, recording a career high 25 wins. He was again credited for being a great teammate in the locker room. Conklin is often regarded around the league as a normal guy, which is rare for men of his position.

After serving two years in a backup role in St. Louis, Conklin is excited to be back in Detroit. Considering the injuries to the goaltenders of Motown last season, the team is happy to have depth at the position.

One interesting thing about Ty is the number of premiere games he has appeared in, especially given his history as a backup or minor league goaltender. Conklin has started in more outdoor games than any player: The 2003 Heritage Class (Edmonton) and the 2008 & 2009 Winter Classics (Pittsburgh and Detroit). He also played in the 2006 Stanley Cup Finals and 2009 NHL Premiere in Stockholm Sweden (St. Louis).

Fresh Faces: Mike Commodore

Today’s edition will focus on another free agent defensemen who signed this summer, Mike Commodore. The 31 year old Alberta native is looking to resurrect his NHL career by joining one of the deepest and most talented defensive units in the league. While much remains to be settled in the preseason, Commodore is projected to compete with the young and talented Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith for the sixth and final spot in the defensive rotation. His signing, a one year, $1 million contract, provides the team with some added depth and playoff experience on the back end, while still leaving salary cap cushion for a late season move if necessary.

After being drafted by the New Jersey Devils (42nd overall, 1999), Commodore spent time between the American and National Hockey Leagues with a few organizations. Despite playing effectively in 20 playoff games for Calgary in their 2004 playoff run, Commodore was dealt to the Carolina Hurricanes before the 2005-06 season.  Commodore had arguably his best season, playing in 72 games with a +12 and leading the team in penalty minutes.  Commodore was again steady in a long playoff run, and became a fan favorite on the way to the Carolina’s first Stanley Cup.

Mike Commodore is an easy player to spot

In 2008, Commodore was traded again, this time to the Ottawa Senators in a deal that involved future Red Wings forward Patrick Eaves.  Following that season, he signed with Columbus, and was a big part in helping the team reach their first playoff series (a 4 game sweep at the hands of the Red Wings).

Following two years of injuries and setbacks, Commodore was optioned back to the AHL last season. He’s hoping to again assume an everyday role with a NHL club. Given the injuries that have plagued the Red Wings defensemen over the past two seasons, the deal makes a lot of sense.

One interesting storyline associated with this signing was Commodore’s bad history with Red Wings head coach Mike Babcock. When Commodore was a young prospect in Anaheim, Coach Babcock had issues with his conditioning. Commodore was never given a shot to play for the Mighty Ducks, and spoke very candidly about his displeasure for his former coach in an interview two years ago. While both parties have dismissed the incident, it will be interesting to see how the outspoken defensemen will react if he does not find himself consistently in the lineup.

Commodore, who boasts 645 career penalty minutes in 454 NHL games, should add a physical element to the Wings defense.  He is not afraid to drop the gloves, standing at 6’4″ and 230lbs and seems to fit Ken Holland’s vision of creating a physical defensive unit for opposing forwards.  Despite weeks of internet speculation on the possibility of Commodore wearing the number 64, a reference that makes video game fanatics nation wide type “lolz”, the defensemen will skate with the #22 jersey this season.

We’ll be back soon with another edition of Fresh Faces! Check out our past article on newcomer Ian White.

Wings Defense Evolving Into A Physical Unit

The change has been evident over the past half decade or so in Hockeytown. A franchise that once favored speed at the blue line has evolved into a physical unit.

In my opinion, the transition began in 2007-08. The Wings opened the season with a formidable blue line including aging Chris Chelios (a young 45 years of age that season), Nick Lidstrom, Brett Lebda, Andreas Lilja, Nicklas Kronwall and Brian Rafalski. While possibly the best passing and puck possessing defensive unit in the league, opposing forwards did not have much to worry about when entering the attacking zone. Outside of the young Kronwall – who was playing in just his 2nd full NHL season – this group was more likely to use their stick than their body to thwart oncoming attackers.

Ken Holland then made the move that I believe resulted in the Wings next Stanley Cup. Giving up only two draft picks (neither of whom would ever play for the Kings) the Red Wings acquired hard hitting Brad Stuart from Los Angeles in late Feburary.  He made sure opponents knew from Day 1 that things had changed in Motown.

Paired with Kronwall, the two formed a physical presence that manhandled opposing forwards throughout the playoffs.  Stuart took Pens forward Sidney Crosby off the ice with a devastating blow in the decisive Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

Today’s group of defenseman features more than just a pair of hard hitters. Recently acquired Ian White & Mike Commodore have replaced the likes of Rafalski and Ruslan Salei (who tragically passed in a plane crash in Russia last week). Both should compliment the physical style of Stuart and Kronwall.

Add captain Lidstrom, fellow Swede Jonathan Ericsson, and young talent Jakub Kindl and Brendan Smith, and the Wings have a diverse, deep, and well rounded unit heading into this season.