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Central: Hawks Are Happy To Be Home

by Phil Coffey / Chicago Blackhawks
As heated as their rivalry is with the Vancouver Canucks, the Chicago Blackhawks can empathize with the road-tripping Canucks after finally getting back home following an eight game, 16-day road trip that saw them go 5-3.

"Sixteen days is a long trip," forward Andrew Ladd told Adam Jahns of the Chicago Sun-Times. "It's pretty nice to get back to Chicago and play some home games."

Ladd said the Blackhawks were a bit disappointed by the 5-3 road record.

"We're always expecting better," he said. "We're pushing for first in the League, and we've got to keep pace here. I think we'll take it. (We'll) get home and get some rest and then move on."

Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa led the Hawks with 8 points each on the trip. Troy Brouwer scored a team-high 5 goals. John Madden was the only player to play in all eight games on the trip and not notch at least a point.

Good news, bad news for Wings -- Johan Franzen's return to the lineup is on the radar for the Red Wings and that might provide some jump that coach Mike Babcock lamented was missing during Sunday's shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"I thought they skated better and were quicker than us," Babcock told Helen St. James of the Detroit Free Press. "It's interesting. We played on NBC against Chicago two weeks ago and since that time, and probably the Washington game, we haven't skated near as good. I don't know if we look exhausted or what. We're not emotionally very fresh, it looks like. We've got to find it within ourselves to have more emotion, more energy and to skate better. That's the only way to come through this. Our execution is making it hard on ourselves."

The Wings were fortunate to come away with one point against the Pens. Goalie Jimmy Howard turned in an excellent game, but was beaten on two terrific moves by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the shootout. Overall, he made 46 saves.

"He's been playing great for us," Nicklas Lidstrom said of Howard. "I think we've been leaving our goalies out to dry on different occasions and today he made some big saves to keep us in the game when they were up 1-0. He gave us an opportunity to come back and win."

At 19-11-6, Howard should merit some consideration for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie. In large part, Howard has been a big reason why the Red Wings have survived a mountain of injuries. Howard was 6-3-4 with a 2.26 goals-against average and .938 save percentage in January.

"It's great, isn't it? It's called goaltending," Babcock said. "There're lots of guys who weren't $7-million goaltenders, but what they do is they do like that, and they get used to it and the team gets used to them playing like that and they don't even blink. Then one day they earn that kind of money. So let's not say $7 million because of the cap world, but let's hope he keeps playing good and he makes a little more than the league minimum, than what he's getting now."

As for Franzen, Babcock targeted Feb. 9 against St. Louis as his return date.

"He'll be back against St. Louis," Babcock said. Franzen has been recovering from surgery to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament in early October.

For Blues, time is now -- With the Olympic break fast approaching, the St. Louis Blues need to grab as many points as possible. That being said, the schedule maker did the team no favors, with two games against Chicago and another with San Jose this week.

"We've got some of the best teams in the League coming in here, but we want to be one of the best teams in the League so we're going to have to play those guys and show we can beat them on a regular basis," Blues forward David Backes told Norm Sanders of the Belleville News-Democrat. "It's going to be a good test, but seven games in the last 12 or so days before the Olympic break? We'll see.

"It's really make or break whether we're in the playoff hunt or we're going to slide away. It's a test for the guys and we're going to take it head on and show what we got here."

In addition to the games with the Blackhawks and Sharks, the Blues will face the Avalanche, Red Wings, Maple Leafs and Capitals before the Olympic break.

St. Louis continues to struggle at home (8-14-5), so shaking those season-long doldrums is essential. A team-wide scoring slump hasn't helped, either. Only Andy McDonald and David Perron are in double-digits in goals.

"We seem to get close but not finish the job -- and it's obviously cost us in a lot of third periods already this year," Backes said. "With a few of those points we're in looking out rather than on the outside looking in."

Torres on the move? --
Raffi Torres will be an unrestricted free agent at season's end, and coupled with his hard-charging game, it means his name has hit the rumor mill this season. Teams battling for the playoffs would love to add a player with Torres' skill and grit.

All things being equal, Torres would like to remain with the Columbus Blue Jackets.

"I want to stay here and play hockey here. I'm very happy here in Columbus," Torres told Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Post-Dispatch. "To be honest, I have to stop thinking about (a contract extension) and just worry about what's happening on the ice. I don't feel like I've been playing my best hockey for the last couple of weeks or so."

Columbus GM Scott Howson would like to keep Torres, but he runs the risk of losing him for nothing if a contract extension can't be reached.

"Raffi has played very well for us," Howson told the paper. "He has scored some really timely goals for us, he's pretty versatile and he's so very competitive.

"We're going to do whatever is in our best interest, both long-term and short-term," Howson said. "I don't want to comment further other than to say he has played very well and we'll see where we are in a month or so at the deadline."

Wilson on target -- The news that Colin Wilson, the Nashville Predators' top pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, was named the AHL's top rookie in January made General Manager David Poile smile.

"He's doing right now what we do with all of our younger players -- playing in Milwaukee and getting to play in more situations," Poile told John Glennon of the Tennessean. "The reports are getting better almost by the game about him, and his confidence is getting back up there, too.

"One thing we try to keep in mind is that we are always looking to put people in a position where they can be successful. (But) if the opportunity arises, and it's the right fit for him and us, it's not a matter of if but when he gets that chance."

This season hasn't been all smooth sailing for Wilson. He opened with the Predators, but was slowed by injury and sent to AHL Milwaukee. He got off to a slow start there, but now is coming on strong. In 17 games in January, Wilson had 7 goals, 13 assists and was a plus-5.

"The detail and attention to his game -- not only with the puck, but without it -- and his positioning have increased his opportunities to do things offensively," Admirals coach Lane Lambert told Glennon. "He's more aware and more available away from the puck. He's more sound in his details and more sound in his systems."

Author: Phil Coffey | Sr. Editorial Director

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