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Central: Babcock searching for penalty-killing answers

by Dan Rosen
Mike Babcock is resorting to flattery to figure out the Red Wings' penalty-killing problems.

"Today I sat down and I watched three games of penalty kill, the Rangers, Minnesota and Buffalo," Babcock told earlier this week. "They're all right at the top (of the NHL). You always say if someone is doing better, let's flatter them and steal what they got."

The Rangers, Wild and Sabres ranked first, second and third, respectively, in the PK department after Thursday's games. The Red Wings were 27th.

Is it a problem? Absolutely, Babcock said.

"If we were to go into the playoffs today with the penalty kill the way it is now we can't win," the coach said. "I say that with all honestly. We can't win."

The PK is a new problem for Babcock and the Wings.

In his previous five seasons as an NHL head coach, Babcock's teams finished out of the top 10 in the PK department only once. Anaheim was second in 2002-03, but fell to 12th in 2003-04. The Wings have been third, sixth and eighth, respectively, under Babcock since 2005.

"This year for whatever reason we have gotten off kilter and it becomes paralysis by analysis," Babcock said. "We have overdone it a little, but we have to get it fixed.

"Right now we have one problem. It's killing us," he added. "It's better than having 15 problems. So, let's fix it."

To do that, Babcock suggested the Red Wings need to fill lanes better than they are right now. They have to do a better job of getting the puck out of the zone. Their goaltending has to be better than it has been as well.

Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski said that perhaps taking shorter shifts will help.

"There are different tactics to use and we're employing as many as we can to get it figured out," Rafalski told "It's going to be different solutions in different games. That comes down to coaching staff doing prep work and everybody understanding and asking questions. That's the process we're in."

Super sinners -- Three games into their season-high eight game road trip, Chicago coach Joel Quenneville decided to give the Blackhawks a little gift.

Gentlemen, Welcome to Sin City. Oh, and Mr. Patrick Kane, stay off the casino floor. You are not old enough buddy.

After becoming only the second team to win at San Jose in regulation this season, Quenneville brought the team to Las Vegas for a two-night stay. The Hawks watched the Super Bowl together this past Sunday and practiced at the Orleans Arena, home of the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, on Monday before leaving for Edmonton.

The Wranglers and Bakersfield Condors, who played later Monday night, watched the Hawks' practice from the stands.

"It's just a fun place to be and nice to be together as a team watching the Super Bowl and getting a break," Quenneville told the Las Vegas Sun. "It's a nice little change and I think the whole trip went well."

The Hawks continued their road trip with a 3-1 win against the Oilers on Tuesday and a 5-2 victory Thursday at Calgary. They're in Vancouver on Saturday, Atlanta on Wednesday and St. Louis on Friday before playing at the United Center again on Valentine's Day against Dallas.

Don't feel bad for me -- Dan Ellis isn't feeling sorry for himself, so he wants none of your sympathy either.

Nashville's presumed No. 1 goalie, who won 25 games last season and led the NHL with a .924 save percentage, has lost his job to rookie Pekka Rinne.

"The final chapter hasn't been written yet," Ellis told The Tennessean. "It's all about re-earning the spot I used to have. ...And, I draw confidence from having done that in the past."

Rinne started for the sixth consecutive game Thursday against Anaheim and picked up fourth win in that stretch with a 4-2 victory. Entering Friday, he had appeared in 17 of the Predators' last 20 games after seeing time in just nine of their first 31.

Meanwhile, before Friday, the last time we saw Ellis was Jan. 17 when coach Barry Trotz pulled him less than 11 minutes into the game after he gave up his third goal on four shots.

Ellis entered Friday's game at Minnesota with 10 wins in 30 appearances and a 2.92 goals-against average, but he's not down on himself or his game. It's the exact opposite, in fact.

"It's funny," he told the newspaper, "I feel better about my game this year, but the stats are polar opposite."

Peca takes stand -- Following Tuesday's disheartening 4-2 loss to St. Louis, when the Jackets blitzed the Blues by a 15-2 margin in shots in the third period and still couldn't score, veteran center Michael Peca had some comments that were, shall we say, interesting to say the least.

Peca didn't just put the blame on the players. He went one step further.

"We're a team when we get down, from the coach out, we get a little rattled too soon and too easily," Peca said. "You can see it in the play. When we get down things get jumbled up and we are scrambling and pressing too much. We have to learn not to lose our wits about us."

Entering Friday's game at Pittsburgh, the Blue Jackets were 1-17-3 when trailing after two periods this season. Asked why, Peca said, "If I had the answer, I'd be coaching the hockey team."
"If we were to go into the playoffs today with the penalty kill the way it is now we can't win. I say that with all honestly. We can't win." -- Mike Babcock
Columbus had lost two straight since starting their post All-Star Game schedule with back to back wins against Detroit and Ottawa. The Jackets haven't been as aggressive with and without the puck as they need to be if they want to become a playoff team.

And rookie goalie and Calder Trophy favorite Steve Mason, who started 19 straight games despite battling mono, did not make the trip to Pittsburgh.

"There are a lot of things you can discuss and bring up as an opinion, but the bottom line is we have to play stronger defensively as a team," Peca said. "When we do that we get chances to score and we seem to have more fluidness through our lineup."

Down again -- Nikita Filatov's second stint with the Blue Jackets this season lasted longer than his first, but it was just as frustrating.

Filatov, who was sent down to Syracuse of the American Hockey League on Thursday, played in four more games, bringing his season total to eight. He also recorded his first career hat trick on Jan. 10 against Minnesota.

But he suffered a leg injury during a practice in Vancouver on Jan. 18 and hasn't played since. He was battling the flu earlier this week, but the Jackets had to activate him to send him back down.

This and that -- Nashville entered Friday's game 12-0 when leading after the first period, but only Ottawa and Phoenix have led taken a lead into the first intermission fewer times than Nashville. ... Nashville plays 10 home games this month, the most for a single month in franchise history. That's good news for the Preds' penalty kill, which is perfect in 11 of their last 12 home games (36 for 37). ... Did you realize that Blues goalie Chris Mason had the best goals-against average (1.71) and save percentage (.942) of any goalie in January? Granted, Mason appeared in only six games, but still that's pretty darn good. He has been hot lately, allowing only five goals in his last six appearances (157 total shots against). He's only 2-1-2 in the stretch. ... Blues center Patrik Berglund is the only rookie in the NHL to lead his team in plus-minus (plus-14). David Perron led the Blues with a plus-16 rating as a rookie last season.

He said it -- "We have been blessed with a few injuries and what I mean by that is we were so close to the cap that we couldn't call anybody up. Now we're getting an opportunity to look at our depth so we can end up with the best roster at playoff time, which is when we really need it." -- Detroit coach Mike Babcock on the recent injuries to Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart and Henrik Zetterberg that gave rookies Justin Abdelkader, Ville Leino and Darren Helm a chance to play in the NHL.

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