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Around the West: No 'magic' yet for Hudler in return

by Dan Rosen /
Seventy points guaranteed. Magic.

These were the words Detroit coach Mike Babcock used this summer to describe Jiri Hudler in separate interviews with

Well, we're 29 games into the season and Hudler is 64 points and a Houdini act away from making Babcock's predictions come true.

Hudler has been disappointing in his return to the NHL after spending last season in Russia, but Babcock is not ready to toss in the towel on the soon-to-be 27-year-old Czech just yet.

"I wouldn't say that," Babcock said. "I got him in a rotation. I told him I would have him in a rotation. When he earns his way out of that rotation then he won't be in the rotation anymore. Basically, the way I look at it, there are three 27-game segments and you have a throwaway game in there. My math works out to 82 that way, right? So, his first segment didn't go the way we want it, so let's have a good second segment."

Hudler's first segment included four games as a healthy scratch, the latest being in New Jersey on Saturday. His second segment began Monday against Los Angeles. He had five shots on goal and was one of only two Wings to finish without a minus next to his name on the score sheet, but Hudler also didn't do anything to help his team avoid a 5-0 loss to the Kings.

Nevertheless, Babcock refuses to believe that Hudler can't be the same player he was for the Wings two seasons ago, when he put up a career-high 57 points, including 6 goals and 22 assists on the power play.

"Every team needs scoring to win. Hudler is a great player who knows how to play the game," Babcock said. "It hasn't gone good for him. He's confident in himself. I'm confident in him. Throw it out and come back hard, but just make sure you're doing everything off the ice and everything on the ice to do the work to make sure you're the kind of player we all know you are."

Now that you know about Hudler, let’s take a quick journey around the conference. The teams are listed in order of where they stand as of Tuesday morning.

 Detroit Red Wings (19-7-3, 41 points)

Despite the 5-0 loss to the Kings on Monday, the Red Wings still are looking just fine. They peppered Jonathan Quick with 51 shots, but the Kings goalie stopped them all. It was one of those games, but it's probably just an aberration. We definitely know it's not the norm, especially for Jimmy Howard, who gave up the five goals on 26 shots. Pavel Datsyuk has 14 points in the last nine games. Chris Osgood is one win away from 400 for his career. He won No. 399 in New Jersey on Saturday.

 Dallas Stars (18-10-2, 38 points)

The Stars haven't won in regulation since Dec. 2, but it hasn't stopped their rise in the standings. The Pacific Division leaders have seven points in six games since their last regulation victory. They gained two Monday in a 3-2 shootout victory against San Jose. That completed a stretch of five games in five different cities over eight nights in five different cities. They came away with five out of a possible 10 points. Andrew Raycroft has filled in admirably for Kari Lehtonen, who has missed four straight games with a sore back.

 Vancouver Canucks (16-8-4, 36 points)

The Sedin twins are at it again. They were dancing around the Oilers on Sunday, racking up 2 points each in a 2-1 win. Henrik had a goal and an assist and Daniel had 2 assists. Daniel now has team-highs of 16 goals and 36 points. Henrik is second on the team with 35 points, including a League-best 30 assists. Their combined 71 points is the most among teammates in the Western Conference this season.

 Nashville Predators (15-8-6, 36 points)

The Predators are red hot right now. They improved to 6-0-1 in their last seven games with a 5-0 win against the Islanders on Monday. They're doing this mostly without goaltender Pekka Rinne, who is out with a left knee injury. His replacement, Anders Lindback, has earned back-to-back shutouts. He's allowed only seven goals in five starts since Rinne went on the shelf. Patric Hornqvist broke out of a prolonged slump -- 1 goal in 15 games -- with 2 goals Monday, giving him 8 for the season.

 Colorado Avalanche (16-10-4, 36 points)

Was Monday's win a possible season-changing event? It could be. The Avalanche already are having a decent season, but if they can build on what they did against Chicago in a 7-5 victory, then this young team will turn from potential to serious contender. Goals from Tomas Fleischmann, Matt Duchene and Ryan O'Reilly highlighted an impressive final 2:24 in the Avs' comeback. Colorado has won three in a row after dropping four straight.

 Anaheim Ducks (16-13-4, 36 points)

Figure this one out: How can a team with a minus-11 goal differential be sixth in the Western Conference? The Ducks were outscored 13-2 in their first three games, but they've been an even team since then (83-83). It also helps that they beat Minnesota 6-2 on Sunday. Anaheim heads east this week to begin a seven-game road trip in Washington.

 Los Angeles Kings (17-10-1, 35 points)

The Kings and their goalie, Jonathan Quick, caught the attention of everyone in the NHL on Monday with a 5-0 shutout of the Red Wings in Detroit. Quick stopped all 51 shots he faced in a career-best performance. Anze Kopitar scored twice and Drew Doughty had 3 assists. The Kings have won four of five this month after closing November with seven losses in their last eight games.

 San Jose Sharks (15-10-5, 35 points)

So they didn't have any luck in Monday's shootout against Dallas. Worse things have happened. The Sharks still are 4-2-1 this month, and despite being No. 8 in the standings, they're only a win away from being No. 4. So it goes in the ever-changing Western Conference landscape. Ryane Clowe has been on fire. Recently named the NHL's First Star of the Week, Clowe has points in five straight games (4-5-9) and seven of his last eight (5-7-12). Clowe is tied with Dany Heatley for the team lead with 29 points, two more than captain Joe Thornton.

 Chicago Blackhawks (16-13-3, 35 points)

It was a brutal loss Monday in Denver, and one the Blackhawks definitely won't forget for a while. They had a 5-4 lead going into the last three minutes, but Tomas Fleischmann and Matt Duchene scored a minute apart and Ryan O'Reilly added an empty-netter to give the Avs a 7-5 win. Brent Seabrook and Duncan Keith each were minus-4, Patrick Sharp was a minus-3, and Jonathan Toews was a minus-2. Marty Turco was pulled in the second period after giving up four goals on 10 shots. The good: Chicago gets to play Colorado again Wednesday, this time at the United Center.

 Phoenix Coyotes (14-8-6, 34 points)

Having already made their imprint in the Western Conference, the Coyotes will try to howl their way through the New York metropolitan area beginning Wednesday in Newark, N.J. Their game against the Devils is the start of a six-game road trip that will take them to Madison Square Garden and Nassau Coliseum before visiting Pittsburgh's Consol Energy Center for the first time. They also play in San Jose and Dallas before returning home. They head out feeling good thanks to Saturday's 5-2 win against Dallas.

 Columbus Blue Jackets (16-11-2, 34 points)

Give the Jackets credit for earning a point in Calgary on Monday. Steve Mason yielded two goals in the first 4:25 and got pulled, so Columbus was fighting back virtually the entire way, until Rick Nash scored a power-play goal with 4:19 left in regulation. It was the Jackets' first -- and only -- power play of the game. Jarome Iginla scored in overtime to give the Flames the win, but Columbus picked up a hard-earned road point. The problem is the Blue Jackets aren't in a position where they can be satisfied with one point. They're now 2-4-2 in their last eight games.

 St. Louis Blues (14-9-5, 33 points)

They don't play again until they go to Detroit on Wednesday, which means the Blues have to sit and stew over Saturday's 2-1 shootout loss to Carolina for a little while longer. They had put a five-game losing streak behind them with a pair of strong wins against Vancouver and Columbus before the Hurricanes came to town and stole the two points. The Blues had 39 shots, including 18 in the third period, but Cam Ward was too good. The good news is the Blues' penalty kill is 15 for its last 15.

 Minnesota Wild (13-12-4, 30 points)

On one hand it was good the Wild were in Southern California over the weekend, what with all the snow that blanketed the Twin Cities area. On the other hand, a 6-2 loss to the Ducks on Sunday had them longing for their shovels. However, the Wild came home from their four-game trip through the Pacific Division with five of a possible eight points. Matt Cullen and John Madden hopefully will be healthy for Thursday's home game against Ottawa. The two centers have sat out the last two games.

 Calgary Flames (13-15-3, 29 points)

They're out of the cellar, two points ahead of their provincial rivals. Who cares if they have two games in hand on the Oilers right now? Who cares if they gave up a lead in the last five minutes of regulation Monday? Who cares that it was because of the only penalty they committed in the game? Well, the Flames probably do, but they're not giving back the two points they earned in a 3-2 overtime victory against Columbus. Certainly Jarome Iginla, he of the winning goal, isn't giving them back. Now can they build on it? The Flames haven't won two in a row since they won three straight Oct. 22-26.

 Edmonton Oilers (11-13-5, 27 points)

Victimized by the Sedin twins Sunday, the Oilers continue their six-game homestand Tuesday against Toronto. They're 2-1-1 on the homestand so far and 5-1-1 in their last seven games. If it weren't for the Sedin twins we could have been talking about an Oilers team that hasn't lost in regulation since Nov. 27. Instead, we can say that the Oilers haven't lost by more than one goal since Phoenix beat them 5-0 on Nov. 23. Give coach Tom Renney credit because his young team is coming around.

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
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