Mike Babcock, Drew Miller

Mike Babcock announces lineup changes, predicts San Jose’s response

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Unless you’ve been sipping the Conspiracy Theory Kool-Aid a little too much, you would probably agree that the San Jose Sharks have the Detroit Red Wings’ number. It’s pretty tough to deny, as the Sharks dispatched them in five games in the 2010 playoffs, won three out of four games in the 2010-11 regular season and hold a 2-0 lead in their current series.

What isn’t commented on very often is the “master vs. pupil” matchup between Red Wings coach Mike Babcock and Sharks coach Todd McLellan. Before McLellan took the top spot in San Jose, he was an assistant coach for Babcock in Detroit.

While savvy general managing accounts for some of the similarities in the two teams’ rosters, the similar puck possession-happy systems should come as no surprise.

It probably shouldn’t be surprising that the two coaches can occasionally predict each others’ actions, either. Babcock announced one lineup change – Kris Draper will take Drew Miller’s spot – and confirmed the separation of Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. The most interesting part of his commentary came in the form of a slight jab at his cohort, as he also predicted how McLellan would react to split up of Datsyuk and Zetterberg. To be fair, McLellan didn’t totally deny the possibility, though.

“We’ll practice with 93, 13, 96 (Johan Franzen, Datsyuk and Tomas Holmstrom), 44, 40, 11 (Todd Bertuzzi, Zetterberg and Dan Cleary), 8, 51 and 26 (Justin Abdelkader, Valteri Filppula and Jiri Hudler) and 33, 43 and 17 (Draper, Darren Helm and Patrick Eaves), and he’ll counter with moving Logan Couture onto (Joe) Thornton’s line and putting (Patrick) Marleau in the middle.”

To which McLellan smiled when asked if he could confirm Babcock’s announcement and said, “Maybe.

“If I did that,” he said, “it’s just size and strength down the middle. Datsyuk and Zetterberg are obviously skilled, but they’re also very strong. Marleau is 6-3, 230, 225, in there, not that Logan Couture couldn’t do the job, because he has.”

In other words, “We might.”

As McLellan later pointed out, strategies only take you so far. A coach’s moves make an impact, for sure, but not on the same game-changing level as in the NFL. There are too many moving parts to control everything, so you just try to put the right players in the right situations to succeed.

We’ll see if McLellan can continue to do so against his former mentor.

Latest way the Wild lost? Killed by penalty kill

Minnesota Wild goalie Devan Dubnyk sits on the ice after giving up a goal to St. Louis Blues' Jori Lehtera, of Finland, during the second period of an NHL hockey game Saturday, Feb. 6, 2016, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)
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It’s said that variety is the spice of life, yet it seems to be the spite of the Minnesota Wild.

As head coach Mike Yeo said, this struggling team appears to find a new way to lose virtually every night. That couldn’t have happened once again on Saturday, when they fell 4-1 to the St. Louis Blues, could it?

Actually …

If you ask Jarret Stoll, the latest problem was the penalty kill.

Honestly, Stoll may have been too specific, likely trying to throw his own unit under the bus. Instead, it might be more accurate to say that Minnesota’s special teams let them down.

Indeed, the Wild struggled to limit the Blues’ power play, which went an unsettling 3-for-6. That said, Minnesota had a chance to trade blows with St. Louis. Instead, the Wild managed one power-play goal on seven opportunities.

The silver lining is that the Wild believe that they showed more fight than this fragile bunch had been generating before.

On the other hand, with Jonas Brodin on IR and Jared Spurgeon apparently hurt, that silver lining may not be so easy to see.

Statement in Blackhawks’ blowout of Stars? Coach Q says they’re even

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Worry (if you’re pulling for the Stars) or gloat (if you’re a Blackhawks fan) all you want, but the bottom line is that the Central Division’s No.1 spot is clearly in Chicago’s control after Saturday night.

The Blackhawks earned a decisive 5-1 win against the Dallas Stars, giving them a five-point standings lead over Dallas for the Central Division lead.

You may feel like that’s more of the same, but consider this: things would look a lot closer if Dallas won or gained points, as they hold three games in hand on the ‘Hawks.

At least one Blackhawks player admits this game means a little more than your average W.

Indeed, while Antti Niemi was pulled from the game and Kari Lehtonen faced his own struggles in Dallas’ net, Corey Crawford ranked as one of the big reasons why the score was so lopsided.

(Artem Anisimov had a big say in that, too.)

As a wise coach with 1,000+ games of experience would do, Joel Quenneville didn’t go overboard in assessing the victory.

Was this a statement game? Who knows, but a certain statement is that the Blackhawks now have a five-point standings lead.

Brad Marchand wins it … on a penalty shot … in overtime

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Looking at the standings, beating the Buffalo Sabres was pretty important for the Boston Bruins. The Atlantic Division’s run for spots appears particularly congested out East.

Of all the Bruins to get a chance to win it all, the team might have wanted Brad Marchand to have that opportunity. He’s on pace to destroy his previous career-highs for scoring, and Marchand’s been particularly hot lately.

Either way, Marchand came up big indeed, scoring the rare overtime game-winner on a penalty shot. Check out the drama below:

That can be a big extra point and ROW (regulation/overtime win) when the regular season is finished.

Note: Many believe that Marchand should not have received a penalty shot on the play.

Crosby kills the Cats: Penguins end Panthers’ winning streak

Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby (87) collides with Florida Panthers' Connor Brickley (86) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Pittsburgh, Tuesday, Oct. 20, 2015. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
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For quite some time, it looked like the Florida Panthers would keep the Pittsburgh Penguins under wraps.

Florida nursed a 1-0 lead into a 2-0 margin almost halfway through the third period, looking to win its sixth consecutive game. That looked great … and then Sidney Crosby + Kris Letang happened.

Let’s put it this way: this GIF of Crosby being frustrated is amusing, yet it doesn’t exactly tell the story of Saturday’s 3-2 overtime win for the Penguins:

Instead, Crosby grabbed his 900th point assisting on a Letang goal, and finished the night with 902 by collecting the game-tying goal and grabbing a helper on Letang’s overtime game-winner.

Crosby crossing that barrier is indeed special, even if it prompts “What if?” questions about No. 87’s health.

The resurgence of Crosby and Letang already played a big role in the Penguins going from disjointed and frustrating to sneaky and scary, so it  shouldn’t be that surprising to see them play so well. Doing so in such brisk order is a little bewildering, however.