SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Sometimes guilty pleasures can’t be avoided.
A case in point was Tuesday’s off day in sunny Arizona where players and coaches took advantage of the terrific weather before they conclude a grueling six-game road trip Thursday when they face the Arizona Coyotes at Gila River Arena.
Golf, baseball, swimming and shooting rifles were the main attractions for many Red Wings.
Gustav Nyquist had to give strokes to Henrik Zetterberg and Brad Richards before they would agree to a round of golf. The goalies – Petr Mrazek, Jimmy Howard, coach Jim Bedard and Chris Osgood – also hit the links, while Jeff Blashill and the coaching staff were invited to take batting practice and shag fly balls at the Chicago White Sox’s spring training facility in Camelback Ranch in Glendale.
It’s a long season that’s both physically and mentally demanding, but for the players and coaches, who practiced at the Ice Den in Scottsdale on Wednesday, finding time to take a break is necessary.
“I don’t know if our record is good enough to tell you what we did yesterday,” Blashill said, while standing outside of the practice rink. “In the morning as a coaching staff we went and took batting practice at their facility, shagged fly balls and it was like I was a 15-year-old kid. It was an awesome morning. Then we went and watched Arizona play (Edmonton).
“We’re as prepared as anybody, but you also need to enjoy life. Look at this day.”
Another group comprised of Niklas Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green, Riley Sheahan, Tomas Tatar, Darren Helm and Luke Glendening went on a shooting adventure and an off-road tour on utility-task vehicles at Arizona Outdoor Fun.
“We actually went on a little tour up in the desert on UTVs on some trails and also got a chance to shoot some guns and rifles,” Kronwall said. “It was fun. It was definitely something I haven’t done before.”
Typically, not something the players do during the season, but as a two-week long trip draws to an end, Kronwall says winding down is essential from time to time.
|Tomas Tatar, Darren Helm, Jonathan Ericsson, Niklas Kronwall, Riley Sheahan, Luke Glendening, and Mike Green spent Tuesday's off day at Arizona Outdoor Fun. |
“It’s nice to just kind of shut off even though it’s just for a day, but do something completely different,” he said. “For us, we usually just lay around, but we actually did something yesterday and then later at night we all got together and had a good dinner. So all in all a good day.”
Kronwall said that Ericsson planned the recreational trip.
“It was about a 40-minute drive,” Kronwall said. “They took great care of us. The two guides we had were awesome.
“You want to try to do something and it wasn’t until we got to San Jose that we started talking about taking advantage of this and do something that we normally won’t do. E looked into it and he was able to find this place and I’m glad he did because I think we all had a great time.”
Some other players, like Justin Abdelkader, stayed back at the resort, relaxing by the pool, enjoying the sunshine or spending time at the spa.
“It is a long season, now we’re kind of on the downswing, past the halfway point, so it has been a nice road trip for us,” Abdelkader said. “Got to spent a lot of time with the guys away from the rink, which is positive. Hopefully we can finish it off here in Arizona and then look forward to going home.”
MARCHENKO OUT: A game after he scored his first goal of the season, Alexey Marchenko will be a healthy scratch for the first time since he was recalled from Grand Rapids in October.
Blashill, who used seven defensemen Monday in Los Angleles, plans to return to six defensemen against the Coyotes.
Marchenko has a goal and five points in 36 games with the Wings this season.
The decision didn’t come easy, Blashill said.
“I’d say certainly not because of his play, all seven played good enough to stay in,” he said. “One has to come out. We looked at numbers of factors. We certainly feel comfortable putting Alexey in and that might be the case the next game. This isn’t long term, this is a day-to-day decision right now. The partners is one thing. We’ve liked some of the different partners. We just decided that this is the six that give us the best chance to win tomorrow night.
PK WITHOUT MILLER: Now that Drew Miller is out of an unspecified length of time with a torn left meniscus, the Wings need to find a remedy to avoid another dip like they had when he missed 15 games with a broken jaw.
“We have to find the right personnel to put out and be successful,” Blashill said. “We have to train them to do it right in practice. We refocused ourselves three weeks ago when Millsie went out and I think that showed in our game.”
There’s a wide gap in the PK with and without Miller. In 28 games with him in the lineup, the Wings’ PK has operated at an .846 success rate, killing off 77 of 91 chances. But without the penalty-killing specialist, Detroit is just .687 (33 of 48) in 15 games.
“You can look at the other night and say he’s out and they scored two goals and that’s true,” Blashill said. “From a results standpoint you’re going to give up some shots and they went in that night. From a process standpoint we didn’t have enough time to say if we were good or not because the one went in so fast and the other one I thought our process was pretty good. Abby has killed more lately, I think he’s done a good job. We’ve used Dylan Larkin at times. We may reintroduce him to the penalty kill and make sure we have the right personnel and the right plan to execute.”
STEM PROGRAM: The Red Wings will help launch a new educational program from the NHL and the NHLPA next week when Kronwall and Abdelkader will visit Alfred E. Upton Elementary School in Royal Oak on Tuesday.
The Hockey Scholar, a new hockey-themed educational course is designed to enable grade-school students to develop important science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) skills and understand the real world application of these disciplines.
The program courses take students on an educational journey with a goal of winning the Stanley Cup. Students can guide their favorite NHL team through 12 learning modules designed to educate them and test their knowledge on core STEM concepts covering data analysis, geometry, life science and physical science topics. These subjects come to life through hockey simulations that include the dynamics of the ice surface, equipment design, athletic performance, and geometric and energy considerations to detail how the game is played.
“it should obviously be a good program for the students to learn about hockey,” Abdelkader said. “I think it’s a positive program and hopefully we can spread it around to a lot of the schools around Michigan and around the country and into Canada, because it teaches students who don’t know a lot about hockey different angles, icings, stick curves, everything.”
KINDL CONTRIBUTES: Defenseman Jakub Kindl scored in his first game since being assigned to the Red Wings’ minor-league affiliate.
Kindl’s power-play goal in the third period helped propel Grand Rapids’ 5-3 win over the Charlotte Checkers on Tuesday. Kindl’s wrist shot from the right point went wide off the end boards where the Checkers’ goalie accidently kicked the puck into his own net with his left skate.
OTHER NOTES: Blashill said that he plans to start Mrazek against the Coyotes on Thursday.
Mrazek’s .942 even-strength save percentage ranks second among league goalies with at least 25 starts. Only Florida’s Roberto Luongo (.943) is better, but only by a smidge. …