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Wings have look of (another) champion

Saturday, 11.08.2008 / 11:00 AM / Columns

By Larry Wigge - NHL.com Columnist

In today's world, everything comes with a disclaimer. You know. "Beware ...

Even the Stanley Cup comes with a warning, especially if you want to repeat as the NHL champions. "Winning one championship is difficult. Winning twice is twice as difficult," Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland recently said.

"It's a hard thing to do," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom agreed. "You've got to have a hungry group of veterans and young guys who are on the same page."

Coach Mike Babcock won't let his team forget how hard last season's October to June marathon was to complete.

"It's a journey. We know because we've been through it. Baby steps ... keep on keepin' on," Babcock explained. "We didn't win last year because of our skill. We won because we worked hard.

"You don't just turn it on. There's no switch. You have to earn the right to feel good about yourself ... and that doesn't automatically carry over from one season to another."
 
Good memories. Accomplishments you'd like to build on. Attention to details. All the other hard-work anecdotes. All true. But repeat? Hmmmm.

Since the Pittsburgh Penguins won back-to-back in 1991 and '92, the only team in the ensuing 15 seasons to repeat was the Red Wings in 1997 and '98.

But these Red Wings are different, and yet they're the same. They talk about competition being built on measuring sticks -- like their 8-2-2 start, including an impressive 6-1-1 on the road. And they are also pointing to another measuring stick -- meeting the Penguins, who the Wings beat for the Cup last spring, in Detroit on Tuesday.

"I still see that hunger, that focus in the eyes of the guys on this team," Lidstrom said with a keen "I-want-to-win-another-one" look in his eyes.

This is a championship team that added an all-world forward in Marian Hossa and a capable backup goaltender in Ty Conklin -- both of whom were with the Penguins last season.

"To me, they could have gone anywhere, but the fact they wanted to come to our team says something," Lidstrom said. "On paper, I think we're better with those guys in our lineup.

"I know that doesn't spell victory. But after winning in 1997 and '98 and 2002, I think I've learned that to win again you have to have a unique work ethic and chemistry -- and I'm starting to see chemistry with this team."

With Babcock there to keep his foot on the gas pedal, I'm ready to say the Red Wings are the team to repeat.

Mashing your teeth -- Ryan Getzlaf is one of those self-motivated power forwards every team would love to have on its roster. He played even when his performance wasn't up to snuff early this season. Finally, a trip to the dentist for a root canal to replace an abscessed tooth proved to be the tonic.

"I couldn't sleep. I couldn't get my head into the game, because of all of the medication I was taking," Getzlaf said. "Now, all I've got to worry about is 2 teeth missing and a little bit of a lisp."

After he missed Anaheim's game at Toronto on Oct. 21, Ryan had 6 goals and 11 assists in the Ducks' next eight games -- with Anaheim going 7-0-1 during that stretch.

 
 
Hot start in San Jose -- Bench boost? No better example than Todd McLellan in San Jose. The Sharks started this season with a 7-0 record at home. San Jose didn't win its seventh game at home last season until Jan. 5. For the record, McLellan became only the fourth coach in NHL history -- and first in 83 years -- to win his first seven home games, following Alex Curry (10 in a row with Ottawa in 1925-26), Dick Carroll (8 in a row for Toronto in 1917-18) and Pete Green (7 in a row for Ottawa in 1919-20). ... Jeff Carter is another of those great prospects from the 2003 Entry Draft -- like Getzlaf and Phaneuf. Only now Carter is more than just a prospect, he's a legitimate power forward who is getting more powerful all the time after signing a three-year, $15 million contract with the Philadelphia Flyers last June. After scoring a career-high 29 goals last season, Carter recently had 9 goals in just 11 games. "He's bigger, stronger, faster, more fit, and more confident," coach John Stevens said. "He's matured into a good pro." ... Playmaker extraordinaire Joe Thornton recently had 2 assists in a game for the 69th time since his first game with San Jose on December 2, 2005. Runner-up in multi-assist games in that time frame? It's Boston's Marc Savard with 47. ... After losing Greg Malone, Adam Hall and Gary Roberts to free agency in the offseason, Pittsburgh was looking for someone who might be able to add some sniper ability. Enter Miroslav Satan -- and a team-leading 6 goals in his first 12 games with the Penguins. Satan's 3 points at St. Louis on Nov. 1 was his 37th career three-point game, but first since he had 1 goal and 2 assists for the New York Islanders in Atlanta on Feb. 1, 2007. ... Why is it Ottawa fans are so uptight about center Mike Fisher not being on the score sheet until he contributed a goal and assist in a 2-1 overtime win against Washington on Nov. 4? To me, Fisher is one of those hard-nosed players who would still be valuable if he never scored. ... The first shakeup in Dallas, where the Stars were struggling defensively was the demotion of defenseman Mark Fistric. The next was more surprising, at first --the signing of free-agent winger Mark Parrish, who had just 19 and 16 goals, respectively, in Minnesota the last two seasons and was looking for work one month into this season. Voila! Parrish scores on his first shot in a Stars uniform and winds up with three goals in that game. ... Defenseman Keith Ballard, who was traded to Florida by the Phoenix last June, had 10 points in 10 games this season (2 goals, 8 assists), plus an assist in Florida's shootout loss to Nashville. That's twice as many points as Ballard scored during his first 10 games in each of his 3 previous NHL seasons combined (3 goals and 2 assists). ... Dallas defender Sergei Zubov says it doesn't come as a surprise to him that Nikolai Zherdev is thriving with the New York Rangers. In Columbus, coaches were always reminding Nik that one good game wasn't enough. They wanted consistency. Zubov says he can see the confidence in Zherdev's game -- and he thinks a big reason for it is the large Russian community has made Nikolai more comfortable away from the ice. Five goals and 12 points in 15 games is the kind of consistency the Blue Jackets wanted from the former first-round draft choice. ... It was good to see Phoenix defenseman Ed Jovanovski finally get on the scoreboard -- with a goal and an assist in the Coyotes win against Calgary on Nov. 4. Jovanovski was so frustrated with his shot that he recently started three-quartering shots, hoping to get them through to the net. ... Flames defenseman Tom Giordano didn't play Russian Roulette with his career last season when he played for Dynamo Moscow. He said he learned to skate better and move quicker on the big European ice surface, plus he got to play in all situations over there. Now he's being paired with Phaneuf on the team's first defensive unit and is playing on power play, killing penalties and he's on the ice in all the important situations. ... Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell was incensed when he read rumors that he was looking to trade star winger Ilya Kovalchuk.

Welcome back, Alex -- We're all happy to hear that Alex Ovechkin was able to get a chance to spend time with his ailing grandfather back home in Russia. No one can do his job up to par when a loved one is suffering. Said Ovie, "I was very happy to go and stay with him. It was very important to me. My mind is on hockey right now. I know my grandfather feels the same. You never know what's going to happen, but I'm ready. I think about him all the time. Right now, I know he's OK." ... Sorry for the delay, but when I heard Vancouver had named goalie Roberto Luongo captain, I immediately wondered why Martin Brodeur hadn't taken on those duties after Scott Stevens retired in New Jersey. Now that Marty is out for 3-4 months, I think we'll automatically see the loss of such a focused leader between the Devils goalposts, don't you? Brodeur has a record of 496-269-113 (.629) since he became New Jersey's indisputable No. 1 goaltender in 1995-96. All other Devils netminders have a combined record of 51-53-13 (.491) over the same span. No other goaltender has won more than 15 games for the Devils since 1995-96 (Chris Terreri is second with 15 wins). ... Columbus got a great look at newcomer Raffi Torres against Chicago on Nov. 1. Ten hits in that game for Raffi, after he had missed the start of the season with a shoulder injury. By the way, the line of Torres, Michael Peca and Fredrick Modin has some unique scoring possibilities for the Blue Jackets. ... First it was Steve Bernier. Then Mason Raymond. Back to Bernier. And now Michel Ouelette gets his chance to try to click with Henrik and Daniel Sedin on the top line in Vancouver. ... Moving the puck from defense to offense? With the addition of puck-savvy Lubomir Visnovski to a healthy Sheldon Souray along with youngsters Tom Gilbert, Ladislav Smid and Denis Grebeshkov, it's only a matter of time before the Edmonton Oilers offense breaks out. When Gilbert had 3 assists, Souray 1 goal and 1 assist and Smid 2 assists in a recent game at Philadelphia, it was the first time in 15 years that 3 Oilers defensemen recorded at least 2 points in the same game. ... How is it that San Jose wing Devin Setoguchi couldn't make Canada's world junior team in a couple tries, yet he's play on the Sharks' No. 1 line with Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau? ... New York Islanders defenseman Mark Streit says he's thrilled to be out of Montreal, because now he gets a chance to play big minutes and match up against the best forwards in the game. No being benched or put up front because of his skating and puck skills. Streit played more than 25 minutes in 8 of his first 12 games on Long Island. ... Need a boost. Here's a good thought from Scott Niedermayer. While Niedermayer won't commit to signing a new contract with Anaheim for next season, he recently hinted he wants to stick around when he said he'd like to play for Canada at Vancouver in the 2010 Olympics. Said Scott, "It would be a great experience if I was able to be part of that team and compete for your country, in your own county, in your home province." ... After getting screened by 6-foot-9 Boston defenseman Zdeno Chara, Calgary goalie Miikka Kiprusoff joked, "You butterfly ... and then you look through his five-hole. That's the only way you can see."

Kane is able -- Second-year star Patrick Kane had a goal and 2 assists in a Chicago win against Dallas. It was the third time already this season that the 2008 No. 1 pick in the Entry Draft had 3 points in a game this season. ... Brian Rafalski said it was the dream of a lifetime to win a Stanley Cup at home in Detroit. This season, he's even more comfortable -- and it has shown with his 12 points in the first 12 games. ... If you watch Boston games much, you might want to know more about center David Krejci, since he always seems to be involved in the playoff, offensively and defensively. The 22-year-old Sternberk, Czech Republic, native, was a second-round pick in the 2004 Entry Draft. He had 28 points in 25 games for Providence of the American Hockey League last season before being called up to Boston, where he added another 6 goals and 21 assists in 56 games. ... Paul Gaustad's return in front of the net, where he may be the best intimidator to goaltenders in the Eastern Conference, has helped Buffalo's power play of late. ... Strength up the middle. That's exactly what Robert Lang, a late offseason acquisition, has given Montreal. His 3 goals and 3 assists and 1 game-winning goal is just icing on the cake for the Canadiens because of his strong defensive work with that big body in the middle. ... Eric Belanger has 2 game-winners in his first 3 goals for Minnesota this season. ... Remember all of those big rebounds we told you Ottawa goaltender Martin Gerber was giving up. No more. But only because Alex Auld has replaced Gerber in goal for the Senators and seems to have won the No. 1 job. By the way, don't believe the trade rumors that suggest that the Sens are prepared to take on the big salaries of a Nikolai Khabibulin or Dwayne Roloson. Auld and Gerber are just holding the job until Brian Elliott, former University of Wisconsin standout, is ready to take the job. ...  It's great to see Jordan Leopold healthy for really the first time since he was traded by Calgary to Colorado in June 2006. His puck-moving skills and speed have complemented the play of John-Michael Liles and Brett Clark on defense for the Avalanche. ... Once considered a stay-at-home defenseman, Mark Methot, a sixth-round pick in the 2003 Entry Draft by Columbus, has shown a puck-carrying ability some in the organization didn't expect. As a result, he had stayed with the Blue Jackets and forced the demotion of talented Kris Russell. ... Tuomo Ruutu has four goals on just 15 shots in Carolina this season. That's another trade with Chicago -- for Andrew Ladd that seems to have gone in the Hurricanes' favor. ... Jussi Jokinen, who used to only have the knack at scoring in shootouts when he was in Dallas, is beginning to show a flair for the dramatic in Tampa Bay as his 4 goals in 3 games would seem to indicate. ... That big push of offense from defense hasn't materialized for Atlanta since the Thrashers obtained Mathieu Schneider from Anaheim. In fact, Schneider was a minus-11 in his first 12 games in Atlanta. ... Oscar Moller, a second-round pick in the 2007 Entry Draft, continues to impress in Los Angeles. No going back to juniors for Moller. Not when he's already had 4 goals in 11 games and is dynamic on the penalty kill and power play with his speed and skill. ... When Shea Weber scored for the fourth time this season, it meant that nine of Nashville's first 35 goals were netted by the Predators defense. Said Predators coach Barry Trotz, "We've lost the Forsbergs, the Kariyas, the Timonens, the Upshalls, the Hartnells ... I could go on and on. I mean we lost Radulov and everyone said, 'Who's going to fill the void?' We've tried to do it as a five-man unit." And Weber is clearly leading the way.

"You don't just turn it on. There's no switch. You have to earn the right to feel good about yourself ... and that doesn't automatically carry over from one season to another."
-- Mike Babcock

Taking advantage -- Finally, a great feel-good story in Vancouver, where center Kyle Wellwood cleared waivers twice in 2 days -- once being sent down by the Canucks because the coach felt he was not in shape to play in the NHL. But the 25-year-old was not in any better shape than when he was shunned aside by the Canucks, when injuries to centers Pavol Demitra and Rick Rypien reversed Wellwood's demotion -- and all he's done is score 6 goals in 7 games.

"He has made the most of his second opportunity," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said. "All the NHL teams had a grab at him [on waivers] going down and coming up and nobody did. I don't know if that was a wakeup call for him or not. But he has really grabbed this opportunity and is helping us win games."


Quote of the Day

What we expected is what we got. Very mature young individual that's focused. He is on the right track. He's not only a great hockey individual, but he's a good person off the ice. He seemed to take a leadership role with this group right off the hop and ran away with it, and was vocal, was respectful, was everything it takes to be a Panther. His future looks bright.

— Florida Panthers director of player development Brian Skrudland on defenseman Aaron Ekblad's performance at development camp