2010-2011 NHL season preview: Detroit Red Wings

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nicklaslidstrom2.jpgLast season: (44-24-14, 102 points, 2nd in Central Division, 5th in Western Conference) The Red Wings’ season was a definitive roller coaster year. Injuries kept the lineup from playing at max power each night, Chris Osgood’s poor play kept Jimmy Howard in net most of the season while the team battled to stay in the playoff race. Once the team was healthy, however, they were the same Red Wings we’ve come to know in the past. The team got healthy at the best time of the season to get into the playoffs but both ran out of gas and ran into a scalding hot Sharks team in the playoffs. After back-to-back Stanley Cup finals appearances, it only made sense they’d get bounced out in the second round.

Head coach: Mike Babcock enters his sixth season asbench boss. While some would say that coaching the Red Wings has to be an easy job given the amount of talent there and owner Mike Ilitch’s zeal for winning, just remember the coaching tenure of Dave Lewis and call it a day. Babcock has done fantastic work for the Wings since taking over and has provided tremendous fodder for both bloggers and media alike with his quirky quotes. If you think Babcock could come under the gun at anytime during the season, you’re crazy.

Key departures: D Brett Lebda. Losing just Lebda as a depth defenseman isn’t exactly a crushing blow.

Key arrivals: F Mike Modano, FJiri Hudler, D Ruslan Salei. Despite salary-cap crunchiness, the Wings managed to improve the roster. Getting Hudler back from Russia was a good re-addition. Bringing home Modano gives the Wings a stable third-line center and Salei solidifies the defense a bit, provided he stays healthy.

jimmyhoward2.jpgUnder pressure: Welcome to the pressure cooker Jimmy Howard. The goalie kept the Wings afloat last season while the offense sputtered and the team played the majority of the season shorthanded. For his efforts, he was a Calder Trophy finalist and now any hopes of getting deep into the playoffs rest squarely on his shoulders. If Howard sputters at all, the confidence level in backup Osgood is at an all-time low and one that would cause panic in Detroit. Howard will need to be as good as he was last season to make the fans believe in him. Conveniently enough for both the Wings and Howard, it’s a contract year for him. Hello, motivation.

Protecting the house: Howard and Osgood will once again be the tandem in goal and ideally Babcock would like to get Howard more rest throughout the season. Osgood will need to do his part to earn the playing time, but if the Wings are in a better position in the overall standings than they were for most of last season, Babcock will be more apt to rest Howard on appropriate nights. The Wings couldn’t afford to do that for long stretches of time last season. After waiting for a few years for Howard to sharpen his game in the minors, he took over last year and played like the guy they thought they drafted in the second round out of Maine back in 2003.

Defensively, you should know the names here by now. Nicklas Lidstrom and Niklas Kronwall will be paired up while Brian Rafalski and Brad Stuart are set up on the second unit. Salei will pair up with young Jonathan Ericsson and try to show the ‘Big Rig’ how to be a better defensively-responsible blue liner. Rookie Jakub Kindl is shaping up to be the team’s seventh defenseman but don’t be surprised to see Derek Meech get his chances here as well.

paveldatsyuk3.jpgTop line we’d like to see: Henrik Zetterberg-Pavel Datsyuk-Johan Franzen. It’s fun to piece together potential lines with a team that’s got essentially three scoring lines, but the one that tickles us the most is one that puts the ‘Euro Twins’ of Datsyuk and Zetterberg together with the ‘Mule’. Franzen has 40-goal potential while Datsyuk and Zetterberg are two of the best two-way players in the league. Datsyuk’s ability to dangle through traffic combined with Franzen’s nose for the net and Zetterberg’s all-around gifted play makes this line one that any fan should want to see on a nightly basis.

Oh captain, my captain: Lidstrom has been the man in Detroit since Steve Yzerman retired and whether or not you think this could be his last season, he’s done well by the Red Wings throughout his career. Captaining the team to a Stanley Cup in 2008 and being the lead-by-example sort of captain that Yzerman was is the sort of thing that makes Red Wings fans’ hearts swell up with pride. Being one of the best defensemen in the league, even at his age, doesn’t hurt matters any either.

Street fighting man: If there’s something about the Red Wings that’s been a truth over the years it’s that they’re no longer in the business of rock ’em-sock ’em hockey. They don’t employ an enforcer, they don’t have a player in the lineup that stands out as a brawler, even on a part-time basis. If you go to or tune into games with the Red Wings hoping you’ll see some fisticuffs, you’re going to be left disappointed. That said, if anyone on this Wings team is going to drop the gloves even semi-consistently it’ll be either Justin Abdelkader or Salei. Abdelkader has developed into a sandpaper-like player for Detroit getting under opponents skin and playing physically while Salei has a mean streak a mile wide playing a very physical game himself.

Best-case scenario: The team stays healthy, doesn’t show their age, and is able to roll three-deep with their scoring lines while allowing the fourth line to create havoc on the ice. Valtteri Filppula continues his ascent as a big-time player. Tomas Holmstrom continues to defy science and keeps plugging home 20 goals. Howard has a repeat season and is spelled by a revitalized Osgood, providing balance in goal and allowing Howard to go into the playoffs fresh and without stress. The defense does their thing and Ericsson is  able to grow into the next big thing on the blue line. The Wings roll over the Central Division, challenge Vancouver for the top seed in the Western Conference and use their veteran wiles to get back to the finals to raise the Cup, which would be the 12th time in franchise history.

Worst-case scenario: Age catches up to Detroit and the key players who just happen to also be older start feeling and playing like their age. Howard hits a belated sophomore slump and Osgood can’t save the day while he struggles. The lack of immediate help in Grand Rapids can’t help out should the injury bug bite again and the Wings check into the playoffs a broken and prime-to-be-beaten team, exiting in the first round to a team motivated to get one over on their long-time nemeses.

Keeping it real: Last season was about as bad as it has been for Detroit when it comes to facing adversity and it’s something this lineup will have better experience in dealing with should it happen again. That said, this team shapes up to be more dangerous. They can roll three lines that can score, they’ve got stability on all three defensive pairings, and they can better handle the occasional bad start from their goaltenders. Anyone writing off Detroit because of their age is crazy. Much like when people predict the ultimate demise of the Devils, they’re always proven wrong. The same can be said of Detroit. With Chicago weakened a bit, the Wings are set up to reclaim the Central Division and be one of the better bets to make the Stanley Cup finals.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Red Wings are a 5. They’ve got all-world talent, they’re a deep team and they’re dangerous in all facets of the game. With the amount of talent in Detroit, it’d be a bigger story if the Wings weren’t a major contender for the Cup. As it is, they, along with Vancouver and San Jose, are the biggest threats to come out of the Western Conference and challenge for the championship.

Flames’ Bennett, Tkachuk accused of slew-footing in loss to Leafs

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The Calgary Flames dropped an ugly 4-0 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Monday, not exactly rebounding from an embarrassing 7-3 defeat at the hands of the Edmonton Oilers.

Things were ugly in a different way toward the end, especially if you ask Maple Leafs fans, as Sam Bennett and Matthew Tkachuk may or may not be guilty of “slew-footing” late in the contest. In each case, they were whistled for roughing.

Bennett was guilty of the first incident on Connor Carrick:

Meanwhile, around the time of the final whistle, Tkachuk’s “roughing” of Martin Marincin drew quite a bit of ire. You can see for yourself in the video above the post’s headline.

More than a few people believe that Tkachuk will be on the Department of Player Safety’s radar thanks to this moment.

There’s no doubt that he’s been making waves as a pest – really, from his first game in the NHL – but some believe he went over the line this time. He’s second in the NHL with 92 penalty minutes, by the way.

Patrick Marleau’s magical third period secures Sharks win vs. Avalanche

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At 37 years old and nearing 500 career goals, there aren’t a ton of things Patrick Marleau has failed to accomplish.* Still, he did something he’s never done – and few players have managed to do – in the San Jose Sharks’ 5-2 win against the Colorado Avalanche on Monday night.

The amusing thing is that it was a mundane night for Marleau and the Sharks heading into the third period.

They carried a 2-1 lead against the Avs before Marleau’s magical period really kicked into gear. In less than eight minutes of game time, Marleau managed an out-of-left-field natural hat trick:

He didn’t stop there, either, as he also hit the four-goal mark for the first time in his career … and again, it was in the same period.

That’s his first four-goal game (and period, naturally). It’s been a long, long time since someone enjoyed a period like Marleau did:

Speaking of history, this massive night indeed places Marleau close to another impressive feat. He’s now at 497 career goals, three away from the elusive 500 mark.

To underscore how unexpected this outburst was, consider this: Marleau generated zero goals and one assist in his previous seven games.

As the Sharks enjoy an era fueled by the ascent of Brent Burns and the passing of the torch from the likes of Marleau and Joe Thornton to a group including Logan Couture and Martin Jones, it seems fitting that Marleau – a player receding from the team’s spotlight – totally stole the spotlight on Monday.

The Sharks probably won’t complain, either. He helped them seal their fifth consecutive win, putting San Jose in a strong position to regain the lead in the Pacific Division.

Pretty good stuff from a guy who rapidly faded from relevance after being stripped of the Sharks captaincy.

* – How dare you make Stanley Cup jokes on a happy occasion for Sharks fans?

Capitals assert their dominance once again, this time clobbering Hurricanes

WASHINGTON, DC - JANUARY 03: Dmitry Orlov #9 of the Washington Capitals celebrates with teammates after assisting Justin Williams #14 on a goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs during the first period at Verizon Center on January 3, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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The Washington Capitals lead the league in standings points … and maybe in swagger. At least, it feels that way lately.

Monday presented their latest display of power as the Carolina Hurricanes had no answer for the Capitals machine. Washington clobbered Carolina by a score of 6-1, but at least the Hurricanes can take comfort in joining a rather large group of teams who’ve been humbled by Braden Holtby & Co.

This makes the Capitals 11-0-1 during a dominant run; they’ve scored at least a point in all but one game since Dec. 21.

Honestly, you can dice up their hot streak in a variety of ways, as Washington’s been outstanding since at least early December. Margin of victory might be the most jaw-dropping way to illustrate Washington’s dominant run:

Yep, that’s something else.

Dmitry Orlov was one of the standouts of this latest win, scoring two goals. His strong night and flashes of brilliance prompted Alex Ovechkin to … maybe go a little over the top.

Hey, when you’re on fire like the Capitals have been lately, it’s probably tough to make some pretty bold comparisons.

Things might be turning around for Lundqvist (not so much for the Kings)

LOS ANGELES, CA - JUNE 13:  Marian Gaborik #12 of the Los Angeles Kings shakes hands with Henrik Lundqvist #30 of the New York Rangers after the Kings 3-2 double-overtime victory during Game Five of the 2014 Stanley Cup Final at Staples Center on June 13, 2014 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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As you likely know, the 2017 NHL All-Star Game is coming to Los Angeles this weekend. If the Kings don’t get it together, that might be the biggest hockey event for some time, as they’re currently on the outside looking in at the playoffs.

Monday presented what felt like a story of one cold streak continuing to fade away while the other only seems to get icier.

The positive side: Henrik Lundqvist might just be working through that slump.

The New York Rangers beat the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 on Monday, and it wasn’t a walk in the park for Lundqvist. He made 36 out of 38 stops, giving him a personal three-game winning streak in which he’s allowed just four total goals.

Some of those stops were pretty impressive, too:

(He also shut down a Jeff Carter breakaway, which is obviously no easy task.)

While Lundqvist is getting it together, the Kings might just be a little worried after dropping their fourth straight loss.

They’re at 48 points in 47 games, leaving them three points behind the West’s two wild card teams and two behind the Canucks.

The Kings have experience fighting through challenges like these, but they’ve also fallen short of getting into the West’s top eight, and their schedule is awfully road-heavy:

Tuesday: at Devils
Thursday: at Hurricanes
Tuesday, Jan. 31: at Coyotes
Wednesday, Feb. 1: vs. Avalanche
Saturday, Feb. 4: at Flyers
Sunday, Feb. 5: at Capitals
Tuesday, Feb. 7: at Lightning
Thursday, Feb. 9: at Panthers

Some of those opponents are struggling and the All-Star break might allow for a breather, but that could still be a problematic stretch, especially if the Kings are in a fragile state.

Then again, if they look at Lundqvist’s upward trend, they can note that fortunes can change pretty quickly in 2016-17.