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Babcock reaches milestone in Wings' win

by Brian Compton /
A few thoughts before I hold a press conference to inform you that I have nothing to announce:

250th of many -- Mike Babcock will tell you he's a lucky man, that he's fortunate to be coaching so many good hockey players in Detroit.

Of course, there's some truth to that. After all, there are some future Hall of Famers on the Red Wings' roster.

But Babcock is also a pretty darn good coach. With Detroit's 4-3 overtime win against the Calgary Flames at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday night, Babcock earned his 250th career victory (182 of them have come in Motown).

"I'm blessed with real good players," Babcock said after the milestone victory, in which his team rallied from a 3-1 deficit with less than 11 minutes left in regulation. "If you have real good players, you have a chance to win a lot of games. We're fortunate here. We're going to win a lot of games this winter. But as you know, it matters in the spring. We have to keep getting better and develop a style of play we can blueprint every night in the spring. That's how you measure success."

Spoken like a true leader.

Congratulations, Mike.

Go get 'em, Brett! -- All of us at would like to wish Washington Capitals Web video producer Brett Leonhardt the very best on Thursday morning.

With goalie Brent Johnson in need of a day off, Leonhardt has been asked by the Caps to strap on the pads for practice. The 6-foot-7 Leonhardt played college hockey for Oswego (N.Y.) State and Neumann College, where he transferred after his sophomore year.

Caps coach Bruce Boudreau wants to give Johnson a day off after his 33-save performance in Washington's 3-1 victory over Washington on Wednesday night. Johnson is playing despite a sore left hip and was down on the ice for a few moments after landing on the hip while stopping Boston's Chuck Kobasew.

"The only thing that's going to heal it is a little time off," Johnson said, "and obviously we're not going to have that."

This won't be Leonhardt's first experience on the ice with the Caps. He helped out Boudreau's squad back in February when Olaf Kolzig was forced to miss practice.

"It was quite an experience," Leonhardt told the Washington Post after that practice, which featured a glove save on Alex Ovechkin. "I've been with the Capitals for the past two months, and I would not have been able to get this job without the help of Neumann."

Hmm … think a solid practice will add to Washington's goalie controversy?

Bouncing back -- Wayne Gretzky was proud of his Phoenix Coyotes, and rightfully so.

After being embarrassed in a 7-1 loss at Chicago on Sunday night, Gretzky's club rebounded for an impressive 5-3 victory in Dallas. It certainly helped to have Olli Jokinen back in the lineup, as the star center scored twice after missing the previous six games with a shoulder injury.

''I was really proud how our team responded,'' Gretzky said. ''We got beat pretty bad last game. We got (the Stars) at a lucky time. They're missing some key players who can't be replaced.''

One player who is eligible to return after Saturday's game at Nashville is forward Sean Avery, who is close to finishing his six-game suspension. Dallas executives met on Wednesday to determine Avery's future, but nothing has been divulged as of yet.

''We talked it out,'' co-General Manager Les Jackson said before the game. ''Everybody had an opinion. Sometime next week, we'll have something put together.''

Great Scott! -- Marty who?

OK, so that's a bit of a stretch. But with the way Scott Clemmensen is playing for the New Jersey Devils in Martin Brodeur's absence, one has to think Brent Sutter's club will remain in the Atlantic Division hunt until No. 30 returns late in the regular season.

With a 4-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins at the Prudential Center, Clemmensen improved to 7-1-0 over his last eight starts. He came within 3:58 of a shutout until Pens forward Matt Cooke found the back of the net.

''I saw a lot of guys I played against in the American Hockey League get the chance,'' Clemmensen said. ''Comparing myself to them, I always knew I could do the same, if I was given the opportunity. I waited a long time for this, but that's why you work on your game in case something like this happens.

"Even though I have played in some games in the past, this is my first opportunity to play a stretch."

No question, Clemmensen has earned it. The 31-year-old has never appeared in more than 13 NHL games in any season, and spent most of last season with the Toronto Marlies in the American Hockey League. Finally, he's getting a genuine opportunity to show what he can do.

"He's a guy that has paid his dues," Devils captain Jamie Langenbrunner said. ''It's great to see him get the opportunity and run with it."

Looking ahead -- The fans were still filing out of the Honda Center after Anaheim's 4-2 win over St. Louis when goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere was discussing the Ducks' next opponent.

Anaheim visits San Jose on Thursday night for a meeting with the Sharks, who've usurped the Ducks' status as kings of the Pacific Division since Anaheim's Stanley Cup triumph in 2006.

"Tomorrow will be back-to-back games, so we'll have to keep it simple and not try any plays that aren’t there," he said. "Obviously, San Jose is a great team. It's going to be a good measuring stick for our team. It should be a good game — very entertaining to watch.

The Ducks lost 4-1 at San Jose on opening night, but handed San Jose one of its three regulation losses by beating the Sharks 4-0 at Anaheim on Oct. 17. They're looking forward to the third of six meetings this season.

"They're the best team in the NHL," said forward Chris Kunitz, who scored twice against the Blues. "Everybody's looking for them."

No stopping him -- At this rate, Thomas Vanek could have the Hart Trophy wrapped up by St. Patrick's Day.

The Buffalo Sabres' forward scored two more goals to lead his team to a 4-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning. They allowed Vanek to reclaim the League lead from Philadelphia's Jeff Carter. His two second-period goals give him 22 on the season.

''I don't think there's enough good things to say about his game right now,'' forward Jason Pominville said of Vanek, who had 36 goals last season. ''I've seen him score in so many ways. He's playing really well."

Buffalo's Drew Stafford agreed.

"It's just a testament to how talented he really is," said Stafford, who also scored in the Sabres' third straight win. "When he gets opportunities, we have a lot of faith that he's going to bury those."

Super Steve -- Henrik Lundqvist got a night off, but Steve Valiquette helped the New York Rangers erase a two-game skid.

Valiquette made 27 saves in a 3-2 overtime victory against the host Atlanta Thrashers. Nine of those stops came in the first period, when he kept John Anderson's club off the scoreboard.

"The one thing a backup goalie can do when he plays is to provide a real charge, and I know the guys play really hard for me," said Valiquette, who made his fifth start of the season. "Hopefully tonight can get us all really going."
"The one thing a backup goalie can do when he plays is to provide a real charge, and I know the guys play really hard for me.  Hopefully tonight can get us all really going." -- Steve Valiquette
Scott Gomez -- who scored the game-winner just 18 seconds into the extra session -- raved about Valiquette's performance.

"He was on all night," Gomez said of Valiquette. "He's such a big part of our team, such a positive guy, always there for everyone. And he's a great goaltender, no doubt about it."

Earning his keep -- With Nikolai Khabibulin sidelined with a lower-body injury, Cristobal Huet has been given an opportunity to show why he was worth the four-year, $22.5 million deal that he signed with the Chicago Blackhawks over the summer.

He's making the most of that chance.

Huet stopped all 23 shots he faced for his first shutout as a Blackhawk, as Chicago earned a 2-0 victory over the Ottawa Senators at the United Center.

''Nothing special," the humble Huet said of his performance. ''I was able to see the puck and it was just being there at the right time, I guess. ... You feel good about yourself and you feel good when it is a tight game like that."

Some of his teammates begged to differ. Second-year star Patrick Kane says he has noticed a difference in Huet as of late.

''You can tell he's definitely getting more confident and it's good to see get a shutout,'' said Kane, who scored the game's first goal.

The shutout was the 18th of Huet's career and his first since March 29, when he was still playing for the Washington Capitals.

''He had a spectacular night, some significant, high-quality saves and a couple of them on the penalty kill,'' Chicago coach Joel Quenneville said.

Contact Brian Compton at:

Material from wire services and team media was used in this report.

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