It's partly by choice and partly because they have had no choice, but as many as 10 players who were part of the Grand Rapids Griffins' Calder Cup championship team last season have been playing key roles in helping the Detroit Red Wings stay in the hunt for a record 23rd consecutive berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season.
"I looked the other day we had eight guys from that team in our lineup," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock told NHL.com. "Any way you look at it that's a chunk, and with that lineup we were able to win in Los Angeles (3-1) and lose 1-0 in Anaheim in a game I thought we could have easily won. They're ready to play."
They have had no choice but to be ready with all the injuries the Red Wings have endured this season to players such as Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Jimmy Howard, Johan Franzen, Daniel Alfredsson, Jonathan Ericsson, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Stephen Weiss and Brendan Smith.
Detroit has lost 186 man-games to injury, which was seventh in the League entering play Tuesday. They don't have anybody on long-term injured reserve.
"We've had a ton of injuries but I'm tired of talking about that to be honest with you," Babcock said. "The reality is no one seems to get better. We seem to have them and they're key guys, but I've always said each year you find players when you get opportunities like this.
"It's good because they're ready to take people's jobs."
Some of them have seized the opportunity to establish themselves as regulars in Detroit's lineup.
Joakim Andersson is one of three players (Drew Miller and Kyle Quincey) who have played in all 46 games for the Red Wings this season. Tomas Tatar is sixth on the team with 19 points. Danny DeKeyser is a top-four defenseman playing 21 minutes per game. Gustav Nyquist has 10 points in 21 games since being recalled from Grand Rapids. Brian Lashoff is playing nearly 15 minutes per game as a third-pair defenseman.
"Let's be straightforward," Babcock said. "In the cap world sometimes guys on your minor-league team don't get to play on your [NHL] team even when they're ready. Riley Sheahan is right there. Jurco is right there. Glendening is there for sure.
"Sheahan has four points in six games. He's a big man and knows how to play. Jurco can flat-out skate and he knows how to play. Glendenning wears on people, he plays hard and we like him."
Injuries to Howard and Jonas Gustavsson have forced goalie Petr Mrazek into four starts and six games. He has a 1.61 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Adam Almquist played in two games on the blue line in early November when Ericsson and Smith were sidelined with injuries.
Babcock is quick to credit Grand Rapids coach Jeff Blashill, who again has the Griffins playing well. They are first in the Western Conference of the American Hockey League with 53 points in 38 games despite having to shuttle some of their top players to Detroit.
"It's like Blashill is on our coaching staff I talk to him so much because we have so many of their guys and he knows more about them than I do. So why wouldn't you talk to him about them?" Babcock said. "He's doing a good job down there and we need those players.
"Will any of those guys be a star one day? I don't know, but they're going to play in the NHL."
They already are.
Biron knew Talbot was ready
That Cam Talbot drove Martin Biron into an early retirement this season did not come as a surprise to the now ex-Rangers backup goalie. Biron said he knew in training camp Talbot was ready for a full-time job as an NHL backup and he had a feeling his days playing behind Henrik Lundqvist were numbered.
"I felt like he looked big in net this year as opposed to the last couple of years when he was starting to fill out," Biron said of Talbot. "People with the new stats and analytics will say I'm old school, but he looked like an NHL goalie to me. You watch him in practice, making the glove save was routine. It wasn't like, 'Oh, I got it. Lucky for me I caught it.' No, it was routine. As the puck hit him in the pants and the chest, when you know you've got the speed to make every shot look easy as opposed to always have to stretch out to make a spectacular save, you notice that in guys."
The Rangers coaches and management clearly saw the same thing because they eventually waived Biron to bring Talbot up from the American Hockey League to be Lundqvist's backup. Biron, who announced his retirement Oct. 20 to begin a broadcasting career, knew it was coming because he wasn't able to make saves look routine and didn't feel big in the net.
"I felt like my game had started to slip because the puck wasn't hitting me in the belly and my strength was to make the game look easy," Biron said. "I saw [Talbot] making the game look easy. I see him doing that every night. The announcers will say, 'Save by Talbot,' but I see how he's doing it and I can say, 'That was a spectacular save,' even if it doesn't look spectacular because he's able to make it look easy. That's a great quality and that's what you want to do when you go into the NHL."
Dillon learning from Patrick
Dallas Stars defenseman Brenden Dillon said he occasionally likes to try to make the big hit even though he knows the momentum he carries can drive him out of position. The 23-year-old said he's working with Stars assistant coach James Patrick on fixing that part of his game.
"I try to be physical and sometimes I worry too much about trying to make the big hit, the big-impact play," Dillon said. "[Patrick] stressed with me to look at some guys, like Alex Pietrangelo is a good example or Shea Weber, they don't always absolutely crush guys in the corner but they can take away a stick lane or a shot. That's something I am trying to work toward, being one of those guys who can do that."
Dillon remains very much a work in progress considering how he got to the NHL. He was 5-foot-8 during his junior-hockey career and his size scared away scouts, so he never was drafted. Now he's a 6-foot-3, 225-pound powerful defenseman. He is trying to use his size to become a shut-down defenseman in the NHL.
"When I came into pro and originally signed with Dallas they didn't have many guys who could kill penalties, be physical, block shots and move the puck at the same time," Dillon said. "I realized that being a bigger guy, being a guy who wants to be able to shut down other teams' top players, I need to really excel at that. I had some success at the junior level like a lot of guys, but it's a little different when you're playing against Jonathan Toews and Pavel Datsyuk."
Ryder impressing Devils with quick release
"He's so strong through the forearms," DeBoer said. "You look at the guys over the history of the game with a great shot, it's a strength thing. He not only can shoot on his forehand, he can shoot against his body. The way he changes the angles it's tough for goalies to pick up. He's a goal scorer."
DeBoer's point is well taken. It doesn't matter if Ryder receives the puck with his body open toward the goalie or if he is turned to his forehand, he can still get the puck off his stick quickly. When he receives the puck with his body open toward the goalie, Ryder quickly shifts his legs and uses the strength in his forearms to snap off the shot.
For evidence, check out the goals Ryder scored last week against the Florida Panthers (http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=35&id=535022) and Dallas Stars (http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?catid=35&id=533202). Also don't miss this one he scored against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Dec. 31 (http://video.nhl.com/videocenter/console?id=2013020599-221-h).
"He doesn't need much room," Devils goalie Cory Schneider said. "He gets it and pops it real quick. He doesn't need to wind it up or have nobody within 10 feet of him. He can get it in tight areas and as soon as he catches it it's off his stick in a hurry. It makes it really hard to pick up. He puts it in places that are inside the post, under the crossbar. It's not like he's hitting guys in the chest very often. He has a quick and accurate shot."
McLellan draws comparison to Braun's skating skills
San Jose Sharks coach Todd McLellan said defenseman Justin Braun has made a "huge, huge jump" with his overall play in the past few seasons, but he specifically noted his skating and how impressive it has been this season.
"If I was to ask you who on our team were the best skaters you'd probably start at Patrick Marleau and you'd go on from there," McLellan said. "This guy [Braun] can skate. He can flat-out fly. And he's strong. It goes unnoticed until you really watch him for some games, but if he gets caught out of position he can skate."
Braun hasn't been caught out of position too often this season.
Entering the Sharks' game Tuesday at the Washington Capitals, he led San Jose's defensemen with a plus-19 rating and his 55.1 percent Corsi-for, according to ExtraSkater.com, was second to Marc-Edouard Vlasic (57.1). Braun led the Sharks in total ice time (986:06) and was tied with defenseman Dan Boyle for the team lead in ice time per game (21:26).
McLellan said he thinks Braun has used his speed more this season and it's helping him with his plus/minus and possession numbers. He also has a career-best 12 points.
"He feels better about his game so he's willing to go and then get back, jump into plays," McLellan said. "That's just a confidence thing. He feels better about where he is. He's more fearless, not afraid of error. His skating has improved but not that much. I think the feel-good part about his game has improved."
McLellan is looking for more offense from Braun in the second half.
"He's a lot more involved in offense," McLellan said. "He's more aggressive at the blue line, keeping pucks in and keeping them alive, shooting it a lot more."
Cogliano in a good place, could shoot more
"I'm not going to say he's a self-made player, but he has really worked hard to improve his game," Boudreau said. "I've never seen a guy that in the summer doesn't just necessarily train in Toronto, where he lives; he'll go to Halifax and train, Dallas and train, into the mountains and train. He's done what he has done to improve himself as a player.
"We were talking about New Year's Eve of last year and he said he hired someone and was skating and working on his game on New Year's Eve. That's the kind of guy he is. He has come so far. He's a very dependable guy who might have 25 goals before the season is over."
He is, in fact, on pace for exactly 25 goals, but Boudreau thinks he could have even more. Cogliano has his 15 goals this season on 90 shots, a 16.7 shooting percentage. He had 13 goals on 79 shots last season (16.5 percent).
Of Anaheim's regular players only captain Ryan Getzlaf has a higher shooting percentage (19.7 percent).
"I would like him to shoot more," Boudreau said of Cogliano. "He made a play in the first period [Sunday against the Red Wings] and I know Saku [Koivu] was telling him, 'Shoot the puck, shoot the puck.' Sometimes he holds onto it a little long but he's got such great speed that he puts himself in position to have the opportunity to score. Now he's reaping the benefits of his shots going in."
This and that
* The number of games that end in a shootout is up this season from 2011-12, the last full NHL season. Entering Tuesday, 15.56 percent of the 694 games played this season ended in a shootout (108 of 694). The shootout determined 12.39 percent of the same amount of games played in 2011-12 (86 of 694).
There likely will be more to come on this topic when the NHL's general managers gather for three days in Florida for their annual March meetings. The GMs discussed potential changes to overtime rules as a way of having more games finish before the shootout during their meeting in Toronto in mid-November.
* A small reason why the Ducks have been able to win 17 of their past 18 games is they have cut down on the number of shots on goal they're allowing. Anaheim has allowed on average 25.1 shots on goal in the past 18 games; it allowed 28.9 shots on goal in its first 30. The Ducks have given up 30 shots on goal four times in the past 18 games; they gave up 30 shots on goal 13 times in the first 30 games.
* Datsyuk needs one point to reach 800 for his career. Babcock needs four wins to get to 400 with the Red Wings.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
Red Wings coach Mike Babcock talking about injuries and fighting for a playoff spot:
"We have to find a way to get into the playoffs. Ideally we get healthy, but if we can't we still got to find a way to get into the playoffs. That's what they pay us to do."
Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau talking about regular-season success vs. postseason hopes:
"In the scheme of things nobody is going to remember anything except who wins the Stanley Cup. But I don't want to downplay the fact that regular-season success is important because it's difficult to make the NHL playoffs. You better play pretty well all the time to make those 16 spots. We're not going to do cartwheels if we win the division, but at the same time I don't take it lightly because there are a lot of teams that wish they were in the same position we're in."
Do you think the Dallas Stars will get out of their slump, and what do you think they should fix? -- @BMcGee628
Bear in mind I'm answering this question before Dallas played the Edmonton Oilers on Tuesday. I'll start with the second part of your question first. The Stars have to take better care of the puck. They are guilty of turning it over way too often. They have not been careful with the puck and it is costing them possession time and as a result they're giving up too many scoring chances. The key is in puck possession. But yes, I do think they'll break out of their slump. They have some high-end talent and most of it is young. They're growing together. These are growing pains that they're going through. They are not big enough right now and they aren't deep enough. But it takes time to build a winner. They're on their way.
Do you expect the trade market to be active before the Olympic trade freeze? -- @JimmyDavis54
I anticipate that it will pick up before the Olympic break starts Feb. 9. Just use 2010 as an indicator; there was some significant movement before the break. Dion Phaneuf was traded. Ilya Kovalchuk was traded. Not as big, but Ville Leino and Matt Cullen were traded. No one knows if there will be blockbusters, but there likely will be movement. There already have been plenty of names churning in the rumor mill, including Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi of the New York Rangers. It'll be interesting to see if new Buffalo Sabres general manager Tim Murray tries to make a pre-Olympic splash by trading Ryan Miller, Steve Ott and/or Matt Moulson. Ottawa Senators GM Bryan Murray said earlier this week he's exploring the market and would be willing to part with a young player to improve the NHL lineup.
Yes, the Senators should consider it. They're obviously an interesting team to consider when it comes to Moulson because ex-Ottawa assistant GM Tim Murray is now the GM in Buffalo. However, I have to imagine the Sabres will try to acquire a first-round pick for Moulson and the Senators currently do not have one; they sent theirs to Anaheim in the summer trade that brought Bobby Ryan to Ottawa. That said, perhaps Tim Murray is willing to accept a second-round pick and a good prospect for Moulson, who could be a rental player because his contract expires at the end of the season. That may be enough to get the deal done too. Either way, the Murrays should talk.
Do the Chicago Blackhawks need to add anyone or can they win it all with their current roster? -- @SweetRaus
Simple answer: The Blackhawks can win the Stanley Cup without making a single transaction for the rest of the season. However, center depth always is a concern, and if the Blackhawks can upgrade in the middle it's a move that GM Stan Bowman will make. He has not been hesitant to make a trade in the past and he won't be now.
It might be easier to predict tomorrow's winning lottery numbers than to predict Lou Lamoriello's next trade. He plays everything close to the vest. If I had to guess I would think Lamoriello is working the phones to try to upgrade up front. I'm not sure he'd want to acquire Evander Kane because there is a question about how he would fit into the Devils' defensive structure. The Jets also would want a first-round pick and the Devils don't have one this season. Same is true for the Sabres and Moulson. New Jersey has to surrender its first-round pick because of the Kovalchuk cap-circumvention penalty. It's possible to think the Devils could ask Martin Brodeur if he would agree to be traded, but I'm not sure if he alone would help the Devils upgrade their offense. I think Lamoriello will try to do something but he's hamstrung by not having the pick.
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