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Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 1:52 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Red Wings eye weekend return for Howard

DETROIT -- The tentative plan to get injured goalie Jimmy Howard [fractured finger] back in net for the Detroit Red Wings is to start him against the rival San Jose Sharks on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena.

However, there is an outside chance he might be ready for Friday night's game at The Joe against Central Division rival Nashville. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock let his coaching staff know to slot Howard in as the starter against the Sharks -- but do it in pencil.

"We'll see what happens there and if it means he's starting against Nashville or not, but he's starting sooner or later," Babcock said after Detroit's morning skate on Tuesday. "You can only get so much holiday time during the regular season."

Fine by Howard, who continues to face live shots in practices and is getting tired of the nervous anxiety he gets from watching games in the locker room.

"I'm looking forward to getting back out there and going through a whole practice where I don't come out of the net," said Howard, who's been out since fracturing his right index finger on Feb. 2 in Vancouver stopping a shot. "I think [returning Friday] is still a realistic possibility. That was the goal that was in place from the start, but if Babs and [Detroit general manager Ken Holland] want to give me another few days in practice, then that's what their game plan is."

Howard has eschewed the specialized goalie stick that he'd been using after returning for practices -- it had a notch cut out of it for his index finger to lessen the vibration of pucks hitting the stick.

"I got rid of it," Howard said. "It wasn't working, so I got rid of it. I didn't like the feel of it, so I just went back to the way the regular sticks are."

Howard also said he's feeling more comfortable tracking pucks and not flinching when hard shots send pucks screaming at his blocker side -- where the fractured finger is located.

"At first it didn't feel all that great to be back out there, but each day that's passed it's feeling a little better," Howard said. "I'm not second-guessing when shots are on my blocker. I'm not hesitating."

He will, however, have to hesitate before taking swings with his fists at opposing players who try to crowd or invade his crease looking to screen or intimidate him. Howard has already gotten into a few altercations against the St. Louis Blues this season, but can’t get into any more for a while.

"I already had to promise our finger doctor … no fighting," Howard said, laughing.

The Red Wings don't face the Blues again for a sixth and final time until April 4 in St. Louis.

"Not til the end of the season, right?" Howard said, smiling. "Plenty of time to heal."
Posted On Tuesday, 02.14.2012 / 1:27 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Cleary out, but Franzen OK as Wings go for record

DETROIT -- Initially, Danny Cleary was hoping he might be able to return to the ice for the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night against the visiting Dallas Stars.

The Wings have won 20 straight games at Joe Louis Arena, which has them tied with the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers for the longest home winning streak in NHL history.

Instead of playing, however, the 33-year old Cleary had another trip to the doctor on Tuesday morning to get additional fluid drained from his knee -- which had already been drained once last Friday to correct two Baker's cysts that were causing a great deal of discomfort.

Cleary said he might be able to return to the ice for practice as quickly as Wednesday and could return to action in games on Friday at home against the Nashville Predators

"I'm feeling a lot better," Cleary said on Tuesday morning, prior to having his knee drained. "It's amazing how quickly it turns. The message today is it's a lot better, so we'll see. If I skate [Wednesday], maybe [return Friday], but we'll see. That's my goal. I just had another pocket [of fluid] built up, but it feels better."

Meanwhile, Detroit forward Johan Franzen was back on the ice for a sparsely attended optional morning skate after missing practice Monday with what's believed to be a sore ankle. Franzen got hit in the ankle by a shot Sunday in a 4-3 win against the Flyers and also scored the game-winning goal to pull the Wings even with the other two teams in the League's record book.

"Felt good," Franzen said, when asked how things went for Tuesday's on-ice session. "[We] had to do a little work on the skate, as well, so I tried it out and it felt good."

Prior to the game Sunday, a teammate played a practical joke on Franzen while he was out on the ice for the morning skate -- placing a wall of red and white tape across the opening of his locker stall in the Wings' locker room.

Franzen had to hang his pads on the outside of the tape until an equipment manager removed all the tape prior to the game. On Tuesday, there was one single strand of tape stripped across the top of Franzen's stall -- seemingly as a reminder of the stunt.

"I think it's over with," Franzen said of the tape joke, before looking up to see the one strand still there. "Well … almost."

As for trying to become the only team in League history to win more than 20 straight home games in one season, the 6-foot-3, 223-pound Swedish power forward said he's already getting excited for the atmosphere inside Joe Louis Arena.

Prior to the 20th win, somebody hurled an octopus on the ice before the game -- a tradition usually saved for the postseason by Red Wings fans.

"It's going to be special, for sure," Franzen said of Tuesday night's game. "I think the fans are going to be into it, as well. We're really going to try to win this one."

Here is how the lineups might look like for the Stars and Red Wings:

STARS
Steve Ott - Jamie Benn - Tomas Vincour
Loui Eriksson - Mike Ribeiro - Michael Ryder
Eric Nystrom - Vernon Fiddler - Radek Dvorak
Jake Dowell - Tom Wandell - Adam Burish

Alex Goligoski - Stephane Robidas
Nicklas Grossman - Trevor Daley
Mark Fistric - Philip Larsen

Kari Lehtonen
Richard Bachman

Notes: Jake Dowell re-enters the lineup in place of Toby Petersen at left wing on the fourth line, while defenseman Sheldon Souray will also miss another game with a bone bruise in his foot that’s giving him problems.

RED WINGS
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Justin Abdelkader
Jan Mursak - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Jakub Kindl

Joey MacDonald
Ty Conklin

Notes: The Red Wings will go with their same lineup as they used in the past two games against the Flyers and Anaheim Ducks. Cleary is out, is starting goalie Jimmy Howard (broken finger), who continues to face shots in practice and try to get himself back up to speed enough to start.
Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 3:32 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Detroit's Franzen misses Monday practice

DETROIT -- A day after scoring the game-winning goal and adding an assist in a historic win for the Detroit Red Wings, forward Johan Franzen missed Monday's practice at Joe Louis Arena.

Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was asked about Franzen's status after practice, and said the skilled Swedish power forward was "fine."

Franzen, however, was seen with his ankle taped in the locker room. He also had an ankle injury in a first-round playoff series last spring against the Phoenix Coyotes, which he said gave him problems all summer while trying to do conditioning work.

In his place on Monday, Babcock had fourth-line right wing Tomas Holmstrom play on the top line with Pavel Datsyuk and Todd Bertuzzi, while defenseman Mike Commodore took Holmstrom's shifts on the fourth line.

Franzen leads Detroit with 22 goals and leads the NHL with 10 game-winning goals -- including a goal early in the third that held up as the winner in Sunday's 4-3 victory against the Philadelphia Flyers that gave the Wings their NHL record-tying 20th straight home win.

The 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers also won that many in a row in one season. As for Franzen’s goal, it remained a topic of conversation a day later for its sheer beauty.

Set up by crisp passes from fellow Swedes Henrik Zetterberg and Nicklas Lidstrom, it was a tic-tac-toe play that finished with Franzen streaking to the back side of the net and tapping home a perfect pass from Lidstrom.



"I know (Franzen) is there when (Zetterberg's) got the puck," said Lidstrom, whose perfectly placed one-time snap pass went right onto Franzen's stick blade. "The play started in their left corner, so that's when I sort of slid down their back side and I knew 'Mule' (Franzen) was standing there. As soon as I saw the puck coming to me, I saw their (defenseman) sort of leaving him, too. I just tried to put it in there. It could've been close to his skate and he could've missed it, too. I tried to get it there quick, so the goalie didn't have a chance to get back."

Everything worked perfectly, of course, and looking back on it a day later was fun to admire. It was one of those pretty goals that players love and coaches are leery of -- for fear their team will start trying for them all the time rather than getting "dirty" goals off tips and rebounds.

"It is fun," Lidstrom said of the goal. "It doesn’t happen all that often where you can make plays like that, but the opportunity was there and we took advantage of it."
Posted On Monday, 02.13.2012 / 2:52 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Wings say Hawks still dangerous

DETROIT -- Their own team is atop the NHL standings and riding a League-record 20-game home winning streak, but Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom and coach Mike Babcock have noticed what's happening in the Windy City.

The Chicago Blackhawks have gone winless in eight straight games (0-7-1). In that span they've fallen from the top spot in the Western Conference -- and top of the League at one point -- all the way to sixth in the West and fourth in the Central Division.

That slide has rumors about the status of Hawks coach Joel Quenneville swirling, but Chicago GM Stan Bowman told Comcast SportsNet Chicago on Monday that Quenneville's job is safe and he's the guy going forward.

In Detroit on Monday, Lidstrom and Babcock each said it was alarming to learn Quenneville's job status even was in question
 
"I haven't even thought about that," Lidstrom said. "I would be surprised (if he was fired)."

Babcock was even more resolute. Asked if he'd be stunned to see Chicago remove Quenneville as coach because of the current winless skid, the Red Wings coach emphatically responded: "Absolutely … 100 percent."

The Red Wings also are fully expecting their rivals to the West to pull out of their current funk at some point and make a strong push up the Western Conference standings again. Lidstrom and Babcock both said Chicago is far too talented and well-coached to let the current losing trend take it out of the Stanley Cup Playoff picture.

"Let's not get carried away," Babcock said. "Joel Quenneville's the coach. They've got real good players. Things aren't going the way they wanted right now. They're still a very dangerous team. A few weeks ago, everyone thought Chicago was going to win the West. I mean, I wouldn't get in a big panic."

Only, he would -- sort of.

"Now, if I was them I would be in a panic because that's what you do when you're the coach there … not in a panic, but it'd be urgency," Babcock said. "And I'm sure Joel's feeling that right now. You'd rather it was them than you, but a little adversity never killed anybody. It's just how you respond to it."

Lidstrom and his teammates know exactly what it's like to respond from it, because back in October they went on a six-game winless skid of their own that had people wondering if Detroit's 20-season playoff string was in jeopardy.

"You're going to have your ups and downs in a season and you've just got to fight your way through it and get out of it," Lidstrom said. "They're a team with a lot of skill and a lot of skilled players, so I’m sure they’ll find a way to get out of it. They could turn it around and start winning (a lot of) games, too. I think they have that good of a team to be able to do that. They have the players, the material, to get up and play real well."

Lidstrom also said these are the times when Chicago's core group of stars -- all of whom helped lead them to the 2010 Stanley Cup -- needs to draw from that memorable run to a League championship.

"I think that helps them, knowing what it takes to win and knowing what they did when they were winning and when they were playing well," Lidstrom said. "We've been on those losing streaks, too. You have to find a way out of it. That's the bottom line."
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 2:07 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Despite streak Babcock looks for more

DETROIT -- Yes, the Detroit Red Wings have rattled off 19 straight wins at Joe Louis Arena since last losing here on Nov. 3 to the Calgary Flames.

It doesn't mean all of the wins have been pretty, especially the last few in the stretch. Since beating the Buffalo Sabres 5-0 on Jan. 16 to set a new team record for consecutive home wins, they've eked out wins by just one-goal margins in three of the past four wins at Joe Louis Arena -- including two by shootout.

On Friday night, win No.19 came by shootout in a game the Wings were largely outplayed by the Anaheim Ducks -- with Detroit looking slow and a little tired for long stretches. Red Wings coach Mike Babcock hopes that trend changes on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) -- when they try to tied the NHL record with their 20th straight home win.

"We've got to play way better than we have played," Babcock said. "Our energy level this last little bit hasn't been as good and our goal to just skate and play the kind of game we want to play at a high level hasn't been there. We've found ways to just grind out games with good goaltending and defense, and yet we think we can be better than we've been … and we have to be."

Is he concerned about the recent trend?

"No, it's just the ebbs and flows of the year," Babcock said. "You're not always as good as you can be, and that's why you grind it out. The next morning, like [Detroit general manager]Ken Holland always says, you look in the paper and you've got two points and it's a Picasso. You find a way to do it and keep grinding. If you can win when you're on a down cycle, that's a great thing."
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:33 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Kindl excited to play against childhood idol

DETROIT -- Jakub Kindl isn't just eager to get on the ice against the Philadelphia Flyers on Sunday night at Joe Louis Arena  because it will be his fourth straight start on the blue line.

His giddiness on Sunday morning also wasn't because the Detroit Red Wings have a chance to become just the third team in NHL history to win 20 straight home games. It was a more personal reason, stemming from his childhood growing up in the Czech Republic as a huge fan of Jaromir Jagr -- who plays right wing for the Flyers' top line.

The 25-year old Kindl has never played against Jagr, so Sunday's game will be special for him.

"I'm excited because I've been dreaming of one day playing against him," said Kindl, who owns a signed copy of Jagr's autobiography that came out in the late 1990s. "Here I am and the dream finally came true. I'm playing one of the best hockey players born."

Kindl's favorite Jagr memory is when he helped the Czech Republic win the gold medal at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan.

"When they won in Nagano '98, I think I was about 10," Kindl said. "I was watching it in the school. We were skipping class to watch the finals. It was the biggest [deal], so I'm really looking forward to tonight."

Even if he winds up in a one-on-one situation against the skilled 6-foot-3, 240-pound Flyers forward?

"If I get the chance to be out there against him, I've just got to be good defensively because he's a very strong guy on the puck, especially one-on-one," said Kindl, who's 6-3, 216 pounds. "I've got to watch out if I get a chance out there."

Kindl doesn't know if he'll get to meet Jagr after the game, but does plan to request one of his sticks.

"I've never met him," Kindl said. "I'm going to request a stick, but it feels kind of awkward for me. I'll do my best, though, because I think there are going to be a lot of guys asking him for his stick, too. I'm going to have to find a way."

Detroit also has Czech-born forward Jiri Hudler playing right wing on the second line.

"Huds knows him better than I do," Kindl said. "He played against him in Russia [KHL] a couple years ago, and he knows him better. I think they played on the national team a couple times, too."
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 1:01 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Mule's stall falls prey to practical joke in Detroit

DETROIT -- After he came off the ice following a morning skate at Joe Louis Arena on Sunday, Detroit Red Wings forward Johan Franzen found his locker stall barricaded by a wall of red and white tape.

Rather than try to cut through it, Franzen hung most of his pads on a hook outside the stall and stuffed his shin pads into the upper portion of the locker through gaps in the tape.

Franzen [a.k.a 'The Mule'] didn't seem entirely amused, either.

Though Franzen didn't reveal by name who he thought was the primary suspect, he did boil it down.

"I think one of the young kids is growing up a little too fast here," Franzen said, smiling. "One of the fastest guys, youngest guy."

The fastest skater on the team is third-line center Darren Helm, who's 25 and was seen walking around the Wings locker room wearing a smile like the cat that swallowed the canary. It should be noted that Helm used to locker next to legendary Wings prankster Kris Draper -- who retired after last season and now has a front office position in Detroit.

Helm admitted seeing the tape job happen, but denied any involvement.

"I plead the Fifth," he said.

Second line center Henrik Zetterberg was also asked if he'd had a hand in the tape job.

"Yeah, actually I saw it," Zetterberg said. "So, it wasn't me. I have nothing to do with this one."

What kind of message did "The Mule" think was being sent with the joke?

"I don't know," Franzen said. "He's been all over me all morning. Stole some of my equipment and now he did this. I don't know how to take that. Maybe I have to do something with his car. I probably will … make it disappear or something."

Did Franzen do anything to start it?

"Nope," he said, laughing. "Not at all."

As for the tape job idea, Franzen acknowledged it was at least creative.

"It's interesting," he said. "I'm not going to touch it, so the guy who did this gets a little bad feelings because he gave the equipment managers [another] job. That's the only way to get it to stop. I'm going to leave this and go shower."

Asked if even Draper could've done something like that, Franzen dismissed the notion.

"He would never spend as much time on anything like this," Franzen said. "It'd be quick. Something with scissors."
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 11:59 AM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Projected Flyers-Red Wings lineups

Philadelphia played on Saturday afternoon and had an optional morning skate in Detroit on Sunday that was sparsely attended, but here is how the Flyers and Red Wings will likely line up on Sunday night:


FLYERS

Scott Hartnell - Claude Giroux - Jaromir Jagr
Brayden Schenn - Danny Briere - Wayne Simmonds
Matt Read - Max Talbot - Zac Rinaldo
Jody Shelley  - Sean Couturier - Tom Sestito

Kimmo Timmonen - Bradon Coburn
Marc-Andre Bourdon - Matt Carle
Erik Gustafsson - Andrej Meszaros

Sergei Bobrovsky
Jason Bacashihua

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Justin Abdelkader
Jan Mursak - Cory Emmerton - Tomas Holmstrom

Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Jakub Kindl

Joey MacDonald
Ty Conklin
Posted On Sunday, 02.12.2012 / 11:57 AM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Howard's finger improving for Red Wings

DETROIT -- After facing live shots in a practice on Saturday for the first time in 10 days, Jimmy Howard took more shots on Sunday morning and continues to takes steps toward returning from a broken index finger on his blocker-side hand.

Howard, who said the pain in the finger subsides each day, is aiming to return for the Detroit Red Wings on Friday at home against the Nashville Predators in a Central Division showdown.

"There's no reason to rush back," Howard said. "Give it a couple more days to heal and allow me to get a couple more practices under my belt, so I can get my game back to where it was."

Howard had posted a League-high 32 wins prior to leaving the starting lineup after beating the Vancouver Canucks 4-3 in a shootout on Feb. 2 at Rogers Arena. Howard's finger was broken early in the third period against the Canucks on a shot by Maxime Lapierre.

"I went out there again and took shots again today," Howard said after Detroit's optional morning skate on Sunday at Joe Louis Arena. "It's just going out there and basically getting confidence in that it's not going to hurt or anything like that. The pain level has been going down every day."

Backup Ty Conklin started the first game that Howard missed, but was replaced by Joey MacDonald mid-game. The journeyman goalie has played well in three straight starts since, including the last two in a row at home to put the Wings on the verge of tying the NHL record for consecutive home wins (20) on Sunday night (7:30 p.m., NBCSN) against the Philadelphia Flyers.

"Joey's stepped in and done a tremendous job," said Howard, who has a notch cut out of his goalie stick to help reduce the effects of vibrations from a puck hitting it. "It's great. We've got to continue to get points, and Joey's doing a hell of a job."

Howard said his main goal right now is just to get his body and eyes back into game-ready condition.

"After not seeing shots for 10 days, following the puck around was really difficult," he said. "Just working here and doing the drills, hopefully I can get myself right back in there. It's going to take a few days to get your timing back. It's just amazing how fast it goes. I'm trying to treat the practices here as a game."

As for that consecutive home wins record, which Howard prevailed in the first 17 games?

"You come this far, now you want it," Howard said. "Everyone in this dressing room, you're not really talking about it, but you know it's in the back of everyone's mind. To put this many consecutive wins together at home, now you want to continue to keep it going. Now that's right on top of us, we're not really talking about it in the dressing room but I think it would be an absolute great achievement."

MacDonald, however, said that he's trying not to put any added emphasis on the game in the way that he's preparing to play.

"I'm trying not to think about it," he said. "It's there. You know about it. I'm just going to go into it like I did the last couple games. Just go in, try to stay nice and calm and relax in there. You know the guys in front of you are going to do a nice job, so just keep building on it."
Posted On Friday, 02.10.2012 / 2:56 PM

By Brian Hedger -  NHL.com Correspondent /NHL.com - At the Rink blog

Boudreau extols virtues of two ageless wonders

DETROIT -- Despite being 41, Teemu Selanne is leading the Anaheim Ducks in points with 18 goals and 32 assists and doesn't show any signs of slowing up despite his increasing age.

"He never has a bad day," said Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau, who has now had some time to study Selanne up close after taking over on Nov. 30 as Ducks coach. "He's very receptive to when you're talking to him. He wants to play every night. He never wants to take a day off. Some nights he skates faster than others, but when he's on top of his game, he looks like he’s a 25-year old."

In that regard, Selanne is a lot like Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom -- who's also 41 and still the Wings' top defenseman.

"I'd like to know the water they drink and what they do in the offseason," Boudreau said. "They must keep themselves in incredible shape in the offseason. Their lifestyle must be great. But if Nick is anything like Teemu, the passion for the game is got to be up there with anybody's."

Passion, Boudreau said, is the No. 1 factor that allows guys like Selanne and Lidstrom to keep going at such a high clip.

"That's a big part of hockey," Boudreau said. "Sometimes when you get older, it gets difficult to wake up in the morning and drag yourself to the rink because your bones and your body are sore every day. And I never see [Selanne] come to the rink without a smile on his face. If Nick is the same way, then it's like they've both found the Fountain of Youth. Wish they'd share it with a couple of us older guys."

Having them both play in the same game on Friday night at Joe Louis Arena, facing each other once again with Detroit's 18-game home winning streak on the line, certainly gives the game an added appeal from a fan's perspective.

"[Selanne] is our leading scorer and Nick's the perennial all-star, anchor of their defense, anchor of their power play and I'd venture to guess that in the last minute of a game … if you're a Detroit Red Wing, who do you want on the ice whether you're winning or losing?" Boudreau said. "It's going to be Nick Lidstrom. They're right up there. Outside of Bobby Orr, nobody's won as many Norris Trophies when his career is up, as Nick Lidstrom. He's going to rank in the top three defensemen all-time in this League and Teemu's going to rank in the top 10 forwards of all time. You've got two of the greatest players in the history of the game playing tonight."
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Quote of the Day

That's today's game. That's one of the things you have to deal with when you're a championship team. Guys are going to earn more money based on their performance and what they've achieved, [and] deservedly so. [Saad] falls into that category.

— Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville on Brandon Saad, who was traded by Chicago to the Columbus Blue Jackets this offseason