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Central: Adjustment period for Red Wings

by Larry Wigge
Chris Osgood vowed he wouldn't be in the wrong place again when the 2009-10 season rolled around. His mind would be right and his puck-stopping skills would more closely resemble his playoff form than they did for most of last season.

A lot has happened to the Red Wings since we left them watching the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrating a 2-1 Game 7 victory in the Stanley Cup Final at Joe Louis Arena.

Osgood's first game at "The Joe" since June 12 was a 32-save effort, holding off the potent Alex Ovechkin-led Washington Capitals in a 3-2 victory for Detroit.

"I said to Ozzie, 'I don't know if you played one game that well in the first half last year.' So that's a real good sign for us," Wing coach Mike Babcock said.

"Everyone is determined to play tighter from the start this season, not just me," Osgood said.

Babcock had reason to have his game face in midseason form after losing forwards Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson to free agency as well as two opening-season losses to rival St. Louis in Sweden.

Babcock is stressing a more aggressive penalty-killing unit -- not only to be better at smoldering opponent's power plays, but also improving on the paltry six shorthanded goals the multi-talented Red Wings had last season. The Red Wings were particularly embarrassed by ranking 25th on the penalty kill last season. That won't happen again.

Babcock talked long and hard with Devils coach Jacques Lemaire -- Lemaire's Minnesota Wild were second in the NHL in penalty-killing last season -- about the art of penalty killing at this summer's Canadian Olympic Tryout Camp in Calgary.

It was a 5-on-3 penalty kill that woke up the Red Wings against Washington.

Said Osgood, "We blocked a ton of shots, did a good job of getting pucks out. That was one of the things we had trouble with last year -- we gave teams second and third chances not getting it out."

And with Johan Franzen out for four months with a torn ACL to his left knee suffered in Game 3 this season at Chicago after he scored the game-winning goal, Babcock is hoping the early season spark in veteran winger Todd Bertuzzi, who had to wait until the third wave of free-agent signings to find work in Detroit, can help stoke up the Detroit offense missing so many regular contributors from last season.

Big Buff -- The young Blackhawks lineup just lacked experience in the Western Conference Finals against Detroit last spring. Another year. More potential breakout performances?

Patrick Kane's 2 goals and 2 assists in the first two games in Finland against the Florida Panthers could never be considered a surprise. Neither could a goal in each game by Patrick Sharp. But what about Dustin Byfuglien?

So strong in and around the net in the playoffs, the 6-foot-3, 246-pound Minneapolis native, got in the best shape of his career after being invited to the United States Olympic Orientation camp this summer. And he too had 2 goals in those first two games overseas.

"I was so excited to be invited to the U.S. Olympic camp that I began training earlier than ever," Byfuglien said. "I just started earlier and kept going. I came to camp in great shape and I don't think I've ever felt this good about my game."

Quick fix needed -- It was sort of like two steps forward and then two steps back for the Blues, losing to Atlanta and Los Angeles at home after come-from-behind triumphs against Detroit in Sweden to open the season. But ...

"There are no easy games in this League. You have to be ready to go every night," veteran winger Keith Tkachuk explained after seeing the Blues outscored 7-3 in the first period of their first four games.

Added coach Andy Murray, "There's a sense of desperation that we had in the second half of last season that seems to be missing."

Nice Plan B -- Everyone who saw Steve Mason post an incredible 33-20-7 record as a rookie with 10 shutouts and a 2.29 goals-against average knows that he is scheduled to play the bulk of games for the Blue Jackets. But consider how the backups failed the team with a combined 8-11-1 record by Pascal Leclaire, Dan LaCosta, Fredrik Norrena and Wade Dublielwicz. That's why Mathieu Garon's 36-save, 2-0 victory against Phoenix in his first start for Columbus was so big.

"He was our best player and our best penalty killer," captain Rick Nash said of Garon.

Speaking of penalty killing, Garon helped the Jackets kill off two 5-on-3s in the victory against the Coyotes. That ran Columbus' early-season PK success to 17 kills in its first 18 penalty-killing situations.

Waiting in the wings --
The Predators were thanking their lucky stars -- particularly Pekka Rinne and Dan Ellis in goal -- for a 2-1 start on the season.

In two of the three games, Nashville had allowed 40 or more shots. And with J.P. Dumont sidelined after the opening game of the season, the offense has been almost nonexistent.

But there's hope on the horizon.

Center prospect Colin Wilson, the team's first-round pick, seventh overall, in 2008 Entry Draft, made his NHL debut Monday after 17 goals and 38 assists in just 43 games for Boston University last season. He was held scoreless in the 6-1 loss to the Oilers, but played more than 16 minutes.

The Preds know they'll get production up the middle from captain Jason Arnott, but David Legwand's struggles to score have carried over from last season -- putting pressure on the talented Wilson to produce.

Wilson suffered a strained groin early in training camp and was still hobbled by the injury as the season began. That when the Preds' medical staff gave Colin blood platelet treatment of his own red blood cells to help speed up the healing process.

Said coach Barry Trotz, "It's been very successful in tennis elbow, some knee injuries and things like that."

You learn something knew every day, eh?
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