NEWARK, N.J. -- The Detroit Red Wings were in the same situation last year as they are now. They were facing pressure to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs, to extend their record streak of postseason appearances, without much time to make sure it happened.
The Red Wings eventually had to win their final four regular-season games and get some help to make the playoffs for a 22nd straight season, but they pulled it off with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk in the lineup.
Zetterberg and Datsyuk are watching these days, out of the lineup with injuries, so if Detroit is going to extend its playoff streak to 23 seasons, it will have to rely on something it hasn't had much patience for in previous seasons: youth.
Right now, there is no guarantee that Kuznetsov will even play for the Capitals this season. His Kontinental Hockey League season is over because his team, Traktor Chelyabinsk, did not make the playoffs, but he remains under contract in the KHL until April 30. He can technically work out an arrangement to be released from his contract early, but then the Capitals have to sign him to a contract. So it's still too soon to tell even if or when Kuznetsov will be in Washington this season. It's impossible to tell what his impact will be because he's never played in the NHL. He's obviously considered a unique talent, but it's premature now to think he will make an immediate impact, if he gets a chance to make an impact at all.
I don't think one has anything to do with the other because I do think Richards should be bought out regardless. It's simply too big of a risk for the Rangers to keep him when they have the option to buy him out and get rid of a $6.67 million salary-cap charge that would be on their cap through the 2019-20 season. They also have to consider the cap recapture penalties should Richards retire early. The reward they'd get for keeping him does not outweigh the huge risk they'd be taking by not buying him out. Richards can still play, and he will sign with another team, but buying him out is a business decision that will have an effect on the Rangers' cap situation for years.
General managers do not like to overpay for rental players like Penner and Robidas, who by the way is still hurt and won't be in the Anaheim Ducks lineup until later this month. They are not big enough difference-makers that a GM would be willing to part with a player off his current roster or a high draft pick. I would also argue that Fasth is not a name player, and a third and a fifth is a solid return for a goalie who hasn't proven anything and has been hurt for most of the season. Fasth has played 30 NHL games, and the Ducks got two draft picks for him. That's pretty good.
"I think it's intriguing," Red Wings veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall said Tuesday, a few hours before Detroit lost 4-3 to the New Jersey Devils. "The way these [young] guys have played, the way they have stepped up since getting the chance, it's great to see the confidence. They just want more and more."
They better be ready to give more and more too, because the Red Wings already know Zetterberg is out for the remainder of the regular season after having back surgery, and Datsyuk's recurring knee problems put a cloud around his availability for the foreseeable future.
With the loss to the Devils, the Red Wings saw the Columbus Blue Jackets move ahead of them to grab the second of two wild-card spots in the Eastern Conference; the Blue Jackets beat the Dallas Stars 4-2 on Tuesday. Detroit and Washington each have 68 points entering Wednesday, with the Devils and Ottawa Senators nipping at their heels in the tight East playoff race.
"There is nothing else in mind for the Red Wings than the playoffs," defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. "I wouldn't want to be part of the team that breaks that tradition."
The lineup that will try to keep the playoff tradition alive now consists of nine players 25 years old or younger, including five top-nine forwards in Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan, Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson.
None of the nine players has 100 games on his NHL resume, and Tatar, Sheahan, Jurco and fourth-line center Luke Glendening have never played in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. Defensemen Brian Lashoff and Danny DeKeyser have combined to play in five playoff games.
But the expectation in Detroit is no different with them in the lineup than it would be if Zetterberg and Datsyuk were healthy. The Red Wings plan to make the playoffs. They're banking on it. In fact, coach Mike Babcock even said as much during his press conference immediately after winning the gold medal with Canada at the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
"We gotta get ready to get in the playoffs," he said. "I just know we're finding a way. I don't know quite how we're doing it, but we're finding a way."
Babcock's optimism reverberates throughout the Detroit dressing room. The players feel the same way he does. They can't even contemplate the alternative.
"We don't even want to think that we're not going to be there, so we're taking it as a for-sure thing," Tatar told NHL.com.
To make it a sure thing, Tatar is one of the guys who must step up over the final 21 games. His line, including Sheahan and Jurco, contributed three goals in Detroit's 6-1 win against the Senators last Friday. More of the same is needed.
Nyquist, who has 10 goals in his past 13 games, has to stay hot, just as Franzen needs to keep scoring.
Franzen, who missed 22 of 23 games heading into the Olympic break, is obviously important in Detroit's push toward the playoffs as a veteran scorer, but it's likely going to come down to the play of the young guys for the Red Wings to be relevant in a month.
Now the Red Wings have to rely on players who last season helped the Grand Rapids Griffins of the American Hockey League win the Calder Cup. If they don't come through in these last 21 games, the Griffins might be getting a host of reinforcements for another AHL playoff run.
"This is Detroit, that's what we do here, we get into the playoffs," Nyquist said. "It's been like that for 22 years, and we're looking to get the 23rd here. We have nothing else in mind than to be in the playoffs once the regular season is over."
Nash getting more PK time
A big reason why Rick Nash made Canada's Olympic team was because of his ability to kill penalties. New York Rangers coach Alain Vigneault appears to be catching on to Nash's unheralded ability in shorthanded situations.
After barely using Nash on the PK for the season’s first three-and-a-half months, Vigneault finally started to use him sparingly over the 10 games leading up to the break for the Sochi Olympics. Since helping Canada win gold with his play on the PK, Nash has been one of the Rangers' regular penalty killers.
He was second among New York's forwards with 2:16 of ice time on the PK against the Chicago Blackhawks last Thursday. Nash then received 1:29 of shorthanded ice time against the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday. The Rangers, who went a combined 6-for-7 on the PK against the Blackhawks and Flyers, did not have to kill a penalty in their 6-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Sunday.
He's hoping Vigneault keeps putting him on the ice to kill penalties.
"As long as we keep doing well," Nash said. "It's still an adjustment though. It's not engrained in my head. (Assistant coach) Ulf (Samuelsson) is helping me out between periods, telling me where to go, where to be. I'll keep adjusting with him and try to become a good penalty killer."
Nash has been a good penalty killer in the past, particularly when Ken Hitchcock was the coach of the Blue Jackets. Hitchcock used Nash regularly on the PK in Columbus and was a big proponent of using him on the PK at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics and again in Sochi last month.
Former Rangers coach John Tortorella used Nash sparingly on the PK last season.
"I like it," Nash said. "You've gotta be extra aware and you've gotta be able to sacrifice your body a bit. And there is the odd time you can take an offensive chance on it and get a [shorthanded goal]. AV talked to me and asked me if I wanted to play a bit on it. I said I'd love to."
Boston Bruins forward Milan Lucic speaking about goalie Tuukka Rask, who won a bronze medal with Finland in the Olympics:
"What can you say about him? He's been our best player all year. He even showed at the Olympic stage that he's the best goalie in the world. We're lucky to have him."
Detroit Red Wings coach Mike Babcock when asked about the potential of Martin Brodeur playing for an organization other than the New Jersey Devils:
"For me, from the outside looking in, when you've been this long with one team and you can retire with that team, you've hit it out of the park."
Hamilton showing confidence on offense
Bruins coach Claude Julien is willing to give 20-year-old defenseman Dougie Hamilton time to develop his game on the defensive end so long as his confidence on the offensive end keeps rising the way it has been.
Case in point was his play in the Bruins' 6-3 win against the Rangers on Sunday at Madison Square Garden. After getting caught too deep in the attacking zone, leading to J.T. Miller's breakaway goal early in the first period, Hamilton responded by scoring a goal and assisting on two others for the first three-point game of his career.
He scored his goal after supporting Jarome Iginla at the right point and following the play to the net. He helped set up Carl Soderberg's goal that put Boston up 3-1 by confidently tapping his stick on the ice, calling for the puck at the right point, and blasting a shot without hesitation.
Julien said that play in particular, when Hamilton banged his stick on the ice and demanded the puck, is proof of the young defenseman's confidence. It has been on the rise since Jan. 25, when he returned to the lineup from an injury and played nearly 19 minutes in a 6-1 victory against the Flyers.
Hamilton has been playing in the neighborhood of 19 minutes per game since and lately has been getting top-pair ice time with Zdeno Chara.
"He sees the ice really well and he makes great plays," Julien said. "He supports the play well also. That's how he scored his goal [against the Rangers]. He's going to be a good player. He continues to get the ice time and he continues to get better in those areas that he's gotta get stronger at, and that's in the D zone. He's been a good player for us and only better things to come."
Henrique flourishing on the wing
Henrique has sevem points, including five goals on 14 shots, in four games as a left wing alongside center Patrik Elias since returning from the Olympic break. He had no goals on eight shots and just one assist in seven games as a center going into the break.
"When he's attacking, when he's aggressive, he's got good speed and he's got a good shot," Devils coach Peter DeBoer said. "So when he's in an attacking mentality, he's capable of scoring goals. I don't know if moving to the wing has taken a little pressure off him of trying to be more of a playmaker and [allowed] him get into the straight-line stuff, but whatever the reason he's obviously been a big contributor here and we need more of that going forward."
Henrique said he's focused on trying to direct more pucks to the net than he previously had been as a center.
That's part of New Jersey’s game plan as a whole, and the stats bear it out. The Devils averaged 24.6 shots on goal per game in the seven games prior to the Olympics, but are averaging 30.5 in four games since returning from the break.
"We're having more of a shoot mentality," Henrique said. "The last few games I'm just trying to get the puck on net, whether it's a great shot or not a great shot, just trying to get a puck to the net where it can create a rebound or get a scoring chance for us. I've talked to Patty (Elias) about it, and when we get a chance to shoot now, we shoot. We have to have that same mentality every night."
Morrow knows how Ott, Miller feel
Brenden Morrow saw the look that Steve Ott and Ryan Miller had after their first game with the St. Louis Blues this past Sunday. It was familiar because he had the same look last season after his first game with the Pittsburgh Penguins after getting traded from the Stars.
"I know in myself how it was when you're playing in a half-full building, scratching and clawing, and you come to a team like this where you know what the situation is and you know you're going to be in the postseason," Morrow said. "[Ott] and Ryan played one game, and it wasn't our best game, but the two of them left the game raising their eyebrows and going, 'These guys, they play hard.' I think they're excited about that."
SOG: 103 | +/-: -26
For Ott it's been since 2008; for Miller it's been since 2011.
"You always are competing and trying to win, but you kind of forget when it's been that long," Morrow said. "You get the butterflies again, those feelings once you get back in the postseason. It really does rejuvenate you."
This and that
* Entering play Tuesday night the Vancouver Canucks were 1-8-1 in their previous 10 games. It was the worst 10-game stretch for the Canucks since they went 1-5-4 between Jan. 4 and Jan. 31, 2009.
Things didn’t get any better Tuesday; the Canucks were shut out by the Phoenix Coyotes, 1-0.
* The Blue Jackets are on pace to score a franchise record 238 goals this season following their 4-2 win against the Stars on Tuesday. It would beat the record of 220 non-shootout goals (2008-09). They are on pace to have five players with 20 goals; the most 20-goal scorers Columbus ever had in a single season is four (2002-03, 2009-10).
* Last year's Stanley Cup finalists are holding some notable charity events in the coming days to benefit children.
Blackhawks defenseman Brent Seabrook is hosting his annual Celebrity ICE Bowl on Friday to benefit children from low-income families in Chicago's inner city.
Bruins forward Shawn Thornton is teaming up with some teammates and 98.5 The Sports Hub for the seventh annual "Cuts for a Cause" event March 26, with proceeds going to the Shawn Thornton Foundation, Boston Bruins Foundation and Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center. People can bid money for the opportunity to shave the head of their favorite participating Bruins' player.
A round of applause for all involved.