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Posted On Saturday, 12.10.2011 / 1:02 PM

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

Detroit's Hudler adjusting well to position change

DETROIT – Valtteri Filppula and Henrik Zetterberg are doing so well on the second line for the Detroit Red Wings that it’s easy to overlook the play of Jiri Hudler on the line’s right wing.

It’s been an adjustment for the 27-year old Hudler, who usually plays the left side because he’s a left-handed shot. However, after getting used to the new side of the ice, he’s starting to showcase his own skills while playing with two highly-skilled teammates.

Hudler has scored a goal and added an assist in each of the Wings’ last two games and has four goals to go with 12 assists in 26 games heading into their game Saturday night against the Winnipeg Jets at Joe
Louis Arena.

“I feel pretty good,” Hudler said. “Being with both [Filppula] and [Zetterberg] is fun. I’m playing on the right wing. I usually play on the left, but when you play with players like this you don’t need to worry about it.”

So, he’s not.

He’s also trying not to overthink his recent success after last season’s disappointing regular season – when he scored 10 goals and finished with 37 points in 73 games. Those numbers were a far cry from what Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was hoping to get from him, after Detroit got him back from a year he spent playing in Russia’s KHL.

“Obviously, last year at this time it didn’t go my way,” Hudler said. “I was frustrated and you know, it was tough. But it’s a new year and a totally different thing. I feel pretty good. I’m not going to get over-excited. It could kick me in the butt (any) time. We don’t want to mess with the karma.”

It might not matter if the forward trio he’s a part of currently keeps playing the way it has the past few weeks. Hudler said it has been a little odd to have his stick blade facing the wall now, but he’s learning to make it work.

“You get the puck on your backhand more because you’re (stick’s) facing (the wall),” he said. “At the same time you’ve got your forehand to the net all the time, so you’re ready to shoot the puck quicker. Other than that, when you play with good players it doesn’t really matter.”

The Wings just hope the chemistry continues for that line – including Hudler’s improved play.

“He seems to be playing well, skating way better and he looks like he’s got confidence in playing,” Babcock said. “[Hudler] is a veteran player. It’s quite evident he didn’t have the kind of year he wanted to last year and he’s on track this year. We need him to generate offense for us and be good defensively as well.”
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Posted On Saturday, 12.10.2011 / 12:29 PM

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

Datsyuk OK, Wings hope to pounce on weary Jets

DETROIT – The Winnipeg Jets are rolling  with four straight wins, but coming to the Motor City on Saturday night to play the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., CBC, FS-D) will be a challenge both physically and mentally after beating the Carolina Hurricanes at home Friday night.

At least, that's what the Red Wings are hoping. They overwhelmed the Phoenix Coyotes at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday by scoring all five of their goals in a 5-2 win in the first period and hope to come out strong against the Jets, too.

"Important game for us tonight," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after a brief morning skate. "It's a good opportunity. You don't catch teams that get in at four in the morning very often and, so, when the scheduler is helping you out you'd better take advantage of it.

The Jets (13-11-4), like the Red Wings (17-9-1), have fared much better at home than away from MTS Centre – where they improved to 9-4-0 on home ice against the Hurricanes . On the road, Winnipeg carries a 4-7-4 record and the Jets have come up short in both games against Central Division teams thus far.

For Detroit, it's a bit of a flip from last season -- when the Red Wings were pretty good on the road and had some struggles at home. Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said there has been a difference between the way they've played in Detroit this year, as opposed to other arenas.

“We’re just putting pucks on net, retrieving them and not letting the other team’s D off the hook,” he said. “We’ve gotten on teams early and scored some early goals. In the NHL, it’s tough playing catch-up hockey.”

As for last year's struggles at Joe Louis Arena, Howard said the difference now might be in the Wings' mental approach on home ice.

“Last year, I don’t know what the case was,” Howard said. “Maybe we were trying to be too fancy. We’ve simplified things at home here of late.”

The Jets still have a handful of guys not playing because of various ailments, while Detroit’s biggest injury is to star center Pavel Datsuk (lower body). He left the game Thursday against Phoenix early and didn’t practice on Friday, but went through Saturday’s skate and will play.

The 32-year old Datsyuk also had a little fun with reporters Saturday, especially when asked whether he needed Friday off to rest.

“I always need a day off,” he said. “Just give me a chance … I’ll use it. Not afraid to take a day off. “I’m now old, so maybe I’m starting to forget.”

Babcock said the injury is more of a bump and isn’t a matter of torn ligaments. Datsyuk had a pair of assists in a five-goal first period Thursday and also had some fun on the ice Saturday morning by keeping the puck away from teammates during individual drills.

Has the undisclosed injury held him back at all?

“A little bit, maybe,” Datsyuk said. “Just being careful, though – it’s not bad. Everything’s fine.”

Otherwise, Detroit is healthy and looking to improve on that home record – which sits atop the League at 11-2-1. The Jets, meanwhile, didn't get into Detroit until 3 a.m. EST on Saturday morning. As a result, they didn't hold a skate. Here is how the lineups could look Saturday night for Detroit and Winnipeg:

JETS

Evander Kane - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Kyle Wellwood - Alexander Burmistrov
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Carl Clingberg - Tim Stapleton - Jason Jaffray

Johnny Oduya - Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart - Zach Begosian
Randy Jones - Mark Flood

Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Chris Conner - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom

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

Jimmy Howard
Ty Conklin
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 4:24 PM

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

Mursak working way closer to return for Wings

DETROIT -- The pain is gone and now it's just a matter of getting his ankle back to full strength for Detroit Red Wings rookie forward Jan Mursak.

It looked like Mursak was headed for a roster spot with the Wings out of training camp when he charged the net hard in a preseason game against the Chicago Blackhawks and wound up flying into the boards behind the net feet first.

He was going fast when it appeared he was pushed slightly by Hawks defense prospect Dylan Olsen, and the impact with the boards fractured his ankle. He was originally thought to be out until Christmas week, but appears to be making good progress in his recovery -- even partially participating in Detroit's morning skate on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.

"I skated a little bit on my own and a little bit at the beginning (of the team skate), too, and I felt pretty good," said Mursak, who made his NHL debut last season but only played 19 games with the Wings. "I think soon I'll start practicing full-time with the team and hopefully I'll be back playing soon, too."

Mursak said if he starts practicing full-time soon, he will probably travel with the Wings on next week's two-game road trip to play the Pittsburgh Penguins and Nashville Predators -- just to keep skating with the team and working with the team's athletic trainers.

As for a timetable for a possible return, Mursak has a general timeframe in mind.

"I would say two weeks," he said. "I'm in pretty good shape. I've been working hard in the gym and today, when I was on the ice, I was surprised how good it went. Hopefully the ankle gets stronger and I'll be back playing soon."

At this point, the wait is what hurts most. Mursak is a speedy forward who could be a big help on the forecheck like Detroit's third-line center Darren Helm, and before the injury he was eager to see what he could do at the NHL level for a full season.

"I'm really anxious," Mursak said. "It's been awhile and I've been waiting for a time to start playing again. I just can't wait to go on the ice and play some games and get back in that hockey rhythm."
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 3:36 PM

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

Coyotes thriving in net without Bryzgalov

DETROIT – After the Phoenix Coyotes dealt star goalie Ilya Bryzgalov to the Philadelphia Flyers last summer, the focus quickly turned to who would fill the gap left behind.

The answer, by and large, has been Mike Smith – who signed with Phoenix as a free agent last summer. In his sixth NHL season, Smith is playing solid in net for Coyotes coach Dave Tippett, whom he also played for with the Dallas Stars – the franchise that drafted him in the fifth round (161st overall) of the 2001 Entry Draft.

Heading into a Thursday night game against the Detroit Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena, Smith is 13-6-3 in 22 appearances and has a 2.26 goals-against average to go with a .931 save percentage. He’s been a perfect fit for Tippett’s more defense-oriented system.

“He’s been phenomenal … both him and (backup Jason LaBarbera),” Coyotes captain Shane Doan said after Thursday’s morning skate. “We knew that (Bryzgalov) was very important and valuable to us as a team and we needed to get good goaltending to be successful. Our system is conducive to having a good goalie playing well and I think goalies enjoy playing in that system, but they still have to stop the puck.”

In Smith’s case, he’s also adept at playing the puck when out of the crease – which adds another dynamic to what Phoenix does.

“It’s certainly an element that helps,” Tippett said. “We have some situations that we look for him to make a good play and it’s just part of the gameplan now. If you have a goaltender who doesn’t handle the puck well, those things aren’t in there. There’s times when it does help, for sure.”

As for the Stars trading Smith to the Tampa Bay Lightning, Tippett said it was more of a preventative move than anything to do with his skill level.

“We didn’t trade him because we didn’t like him,” Tippett said. “We didn’t think we were going to be able to keep him. We had Turco. I thought for sure he was going to be a good No.1 goaltender in this League.”

It didn’t work out that way with the Lightning, so Smith became a free agent last summer. Tippett jumped at the chance to re-connect with him after the Bryzgalov trade.

“When (Smith) was available this summer, I thought he’d be a good fit for our team personality-wise,” Tippett said. “I (also) thought he was a good player and I thought (Coyotes goaltending coach) Sean Burke would be good for him. All three turned out well.”
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 3:28 PM

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

Ekman-Larsson draws comparions to "idol" Lidstrom

DETROIT – Mike Babcock isn’t one to liberally offer extraordinary compliments about young players.

So, when the Detroit Red Wings coach used the term “Nick Lidstrom-like thinker” Thursday morning to describe 20-year old Phoenix defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, it raised a few eyebrows among the media contingent talking to Babcock.

The Swedish-born Ekman-Larsson, leads Coyotes defensemen in goals scored with five and has nine points in 27 games coming into the game Thursday against Lidstrom’s Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. Like Lidstrom, he’s a good skater and moves the puck well – but he’s also showing some of the same ability to think a little like his boyhood idol in terms of positioning.

“He’s a heady player,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. “He makes some hard plays look simple and that’s the greatest thing about Lidstrom. He makes the game look easy. (Ekman-Larsson) is a young player that obviously has some growth (left), but he makes good plays and decision-making seems simple for him. That’s probably what (Babcock) is referring to.”

Ekman-Larsson also emulates Lidstrom a little bit off the ice, by downplaying his own abilities and talking more about team goals than individual. He does, however, admit that he’s picked up a few things in his own game just by watching Lidstrom closely over the years.

“He was my idol when I grew up, so I mean he’s a really good player and I always watched him when I was a kid,” Ekman-Larsson said after Phoenix’s skate Thursday. “I just tried to learn something about what Nick does.”

He’s still watching, too – whenever he’s not playing against the Red Wings.

“He’s still the best (defenseman) in the League, so I can still (learn),” Ekman-Larsson said. “I tried to play like him when I was younger … but I can’t lose focus watching him out there. I just have to play my game.”

Ekman-Larson made his NHL debut last season and scored one goal to go with 10 assists in 48 games for Phoenix. This season, he’s already more than quadrupled his goal output and is starting to show the same kind of ability as Lidstrom to usually put himself in the right spot and play the best angles.

He learned it from watching the best.

“He’s a good thinker and he reads the ice awesome,” Ekman-Larsson said of Lidstrom, Detroit’s captain. “I like how he handles the puck and makes good plays.”

Tippett likes what’s he’s now seeing out his own Swedish blueliner.

“He’s got poise with the puck to go with it,” the Coyotes coach said. “He’ll grow into being a very good defenseman in this League for a long time.”
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 2:33 PM

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

Homecoming tonight for Michigan native Connor

DETROIT – It will be a homecoming game of sorts for Chris Conner on Thursday night at Joe Louis Arena, when the forward from Westland, Mich., suits up for the hometown Detroit Red Wings.

Conner, 27, signed with the Wings as an unrestricted free agent this summer and didn’t initially make the team out of training camp. He started the season with the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League and got recalled to make his Detroit debut Dec. 2 at Buffalo.

After playing during the Wings’ recent three-game road trip, Conner will now make his home debut against the Phoenix Cotes on Thursday night – though he’s not entirely sure how many friends and family will be in the stands.

“You’re always watching (the Wings) on TV when you’re younger,” Conner said of being a Wings fan as a kid. “Right now, I’m just trying to do whatever I can with my speed to help out on the forecheck and be responsible in my own zone.”

Conner has now played parts of six seasons in the NHL – including 60 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins last year. Overall, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock has liked the effort he’s seen out of Conner on the third line since his call up.

“I thought he’s played hard for us,” Babcock said. “I didn’t think our team was as good the last two games since we lost (Valtteri Filppula to a cut shin), so those third and fourth line guys didn’t get to be as important as they should have been and didn’t get the minutes they probably deserved at times. He’s just got to continue to be good, tenacious, hard on the penalty kill and do what he can to help us.”
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 2:29 PM

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

Filppula returns after leg laceration

DETROIT -- Valtteri Filppula will suit up for the Detroit Red Wings at left wing on the second line Thursday night against the Phoenix Coyotes.

Filppula missed Detroit’s previous game Tuesday night in St. Louis with a deep laceration on his lower right shin that happened in a loss at Colorado last weekend – when a skate blade caught his skin just below the shin pad and above the boot.

Had he ever been cut in a similar fashion?

“Not like this,” Filppula said after going through the morning skate Thursday. “This one’s deep. I got cut last season a little the same way but it wasn’t as bad. It’s not a fun spot to have it happen, right on the (skate boot), but it shouldn’t take too long (to heal). It could’ve been a lot worse. I might’ve had to rest much longer.”

Filppula couldn’t go through an entire morning skate at full speed on Tuesday, which is why he missed the game against the St. Louis Blues. On Thursday at Joe Louis Arena, he said it felt good enough to get up to a faster speed during drills.

“I felt a lot better,” said Filppula, who has 8 goals and 21 points. “It just freshly happened, so it’s not good yet. But it’s a lot better than it was last time.”

Filppula is also wearing Kevlar socks to protect the wound and says he will wear them from now on, even after the cut heals.

“It felt fine,” he said. “This is the first time I’ve ever wore it, but it felt pretty good. I noticed no difference, so I might as well keep it. That’s how we learn, right? Something has to happen first.”
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Posted On Thursday, 12.08.2011 / 1:26 PM

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

Coyotes look to set 'new standard' against Wings

DETROIT -- The Phoenix Coyotes are back at Joe Louis Arena for the first time since a first-round playoff series last spring that saw them lose the first two games here on the way to being swept by the Detroit Red Wings.

In fact, Detroit has knocked Phoenix coach Dave Tippett's Coyotes out of the playoffs for two straight seasons -- despite the Coyotes always seeming to play the Wings tough in hard-hitting, close games. Are the Wings a sort of measuring stick for the upstart Coyotes, who come into Thursday night's game seeking their third straight win?

It's the first of four games between the two this season and Phoenix has already knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks and Nashville Predators earlier this week on this road trip.

"I don't if it's a measurement game, but what we've done is we've tried to set new standards," Tippett said after Thursday's morning skate. "When you're playing against top teams, if you can go out and play well and beat top teams you set new standards."

Beating the Wings certainly qualifies, even though both are currently deadlocked in the Western Conference standings with 33 points each.

"We've played pretty hard here and kept ourselves in a lot of games," Tippett said. "This will be another one of those tests for us. Detroit's a very good team."

It might also help Phoenix to get some veteran help back on the blue line. Coyotes defenseman Michal Rozsival, who's been on injured reserve since Oct. 10 with an upper body injury, will make his return against Detroit and replace rookie Chris Summers on the second pairing with David Schlemko.

Detroit will also get a key cog back into its lineup when top-six forward Valtteri Filppula returns from a one-game absence caused by a deep cut to his shin that happened in a game last weekend at Colorado. Filppula, who will wear Kevlar socks to protect the wound, will go right back to his spot at left wing on the second line next to star center Henrik Zetterberg.

"I felt OK," Filppula said of testing the shin out in Thursday's morning skate. "It's obviously sore, but I felt a lot better than the last time I skated (on Tuesday)."

Here's a look at what the lineups might look like for the Red Wings (16-9-1) and Coyotes (15-9-3) on Thursday night:

COYOTES
Ray Whitney - Martin Hanzal - Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker - Daymond Langkow - Shane Doan
Taylor Pyatt - Boyd Gordon - Lauri Korpikoski
Raffi Torres - Kyle Turris - Kyle Chipchura

Keith Yandle - Derek Morris
Michal Rozsival - David Schlemko
Oliver Ekman-Larsson - Adrian Aucoin

Mike Smith will get the start in net, while Jason LaBarbera will be on the bench.

RED WINGS

Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Chris Conner - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom

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

Jimmy Howard will get the start in net, while Ty Conklin will be on the bench.
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 5:16 PM

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

Turris reacclimating to life with Coyotes

CHICAGO -- Kyle Turris got a rude welcome back to the NHL in his second game back after an extended absence on a contract holdout to start the season.

During Saturday's 4-2 loss at home to the Philadelphia Flyers, the 22-year old center got hit in the mouth by a puck after it was shot at Coyotes goalie Mike Smith -- who deflected it right into Turris' lip.

He got nine stitches and played a little more than 12 minutes in the game, but said he's OK and will likely be in the lineup as the fourth-line center on Monday night against the Chicago Blackhawks. It was Turris' second game back after the holdout and he said he's feeling good otherwise.

Turris didn't need a conditioning stint in the minors to get his game legs back because he worked hard during the hold out to stay in shape.

"I'm definitely getting more comfortable and getting my legs under me," said Turris, who hasn't scored a point yet. "I definitely felt like I was in shape. I knew it would take a couple practices to get my timing back, but I felt pretty good coming in and I'm just looking to get going again."

He's also excited to be back in an NHL locker room and back on the ice for games.

"It's tough watching," said Turris, whose return bumped gritty center Kyle Chipchura from the lineup. "It feels good to be back, just getting back on the ice and playing the game I love. Eventually I want to work my way up and get to be a top guy that is a go-to guy."

The third pick in the 2007 NHL Draft started to show glimpses of what he can do during last season's playoffs, when he scored a goal and added a pair of assists in the Coyotes' four-game loss to the Detroit Red Wings in the first round.

The goal now is to build off that experience and develop as a player.

"Playing in The Joe for the playoffs, and the octopus on the ice was pretty neat and something I learned a lot from," Turris said. "I won't forget that experience for a long time."
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Posted On Monday, 12.05.2011 / 5:14 PM

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

Streaky Vrbata has been red-hot for Coyotes

CHICAGO -- After a slow start scoring goals this season, Phoenix Coyotes forward Radim Vrbata has been red hot at finding the back of the net.

He leads the team with 12 goals and is tied for the points lead with 22, but 11 of those goals have come in the past 16 games. He's also got a stat line of 11-8-19 in his past 17 games heading into Monday night's game against the Chicago Blackhawks at the United Center -- where he scored a goal and added an assist on Nov. 29 in a 4-1 win.

Coyotes coach Dave Tippett has urged Vrbata to shoot the puck more in the past, but it's more than just firing shots that’s working for the 30-year old Vrbata.

"Shooting more is one thing, but (Vrbata is) shooting to score more," Tippett said. "He's a guy that finds lots of shots, but when he's on top of his game he's got a little extra oomph to shoot to score. He finds opportunities. When they're going in for him, it seems like he's got that little extra zip on it. When the puck's not going in, it just doesn't have that same pop."

The problem is getting that "pop" to show up more consistently off Vrbata's stick.

"He goes in stretches," Tippett said. "He's a bit of a streaky guy. Like all goal scorers, sometimes the puck goes in for you and sometimes it doesn't. When he's on, he can be pretty good."

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Quote of the Day

For six months, it's a really good accomplishment. But as soon as April [11, the end of the regular season] comes around, no one thinks about the regular season anymore. For six months, it's a real battle to get into the playoffs in the NHL these days. There are a lot of good teams, and it takes consistency over a long time.

— Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau on clinching a playoff berth after a win against the Islanders on Saturday
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