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Datsyuk aims for a strong finishing kick

by Phil Coffey
By the standards of most players, 11 goals and 25 assists with a plus-11 mark through 41 games would be a very productive season.

Most players, however, are not Pavel Datsyuk.

We are accustomed to magical things from Datsyuk, who entered 2009-10 with back-to-back seasons of 30-plus goals and 97 points. But this season has been a struggle, as it has been for the Red Wings as a whole, who have had to battle through a seemingly endless string of injuries following an offseason makeover.

"He's like the team as a whole has been," teammate Nicklas Lidstrom told Dana Wakiji of the Detroit News. "We haven't been as effective offensively as we've been in the past. We've had to play real well defensively to win games. We have to win games with less scoring than we've had to in the past. Everybody has had to adjust to that, not just Pav."

Fair enough. The Wings have accented defensive play more this season, and the superbly skilled Datsyuk surely excels in that area. But in the past, he has been able to take defensive excellence and turn it into offensive opportunities. So far this season, those chances haven't come with normal regularity.

"I am worried, yes, but not like a lot," Datsyuk said. "The most important thing is that we stay strong as a team."

Coach Mike Babcock, who knows his team better than anyone, says it isn't a mystery for Datsyuk's offensive drop. With Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson leaving as free agents and Johan Franzen, Dan Cleary and Tomas Holmstrom losing time to injuries, continuity has been at a premium.

"He hasn't had the surrounding guys as much this year and that has made it harder," Babcock said. "But it's amazing when all you do is check, check, check, it's because you don't have the puck as much as you are used to."

"It is what it is right now, but I am looking forward," Datsyuk said. "We have 30 games left. I am going to do my best and get my numbers back up where they usually are. I never stop fighting. I had 31 goals, then 32 goals. I want 32 goals again."

Sutter seeks consistency -- The Calgary Flames have gone through quite the rough patch of late, which would logically make an intense coach like Brent Sutter more than a little peeved.

But Sutter is looking at the overall picture and what he finds maddening is the Flames' penchant for consistent inconsistency.

"Obviously, the inconsistency is something that I haven't been happy about ... and having to create an atmosphere (that says), 'This is what we're about as a team,' and having to do that on a daily basis," Sutter told reporters. "We need everyone to respond to that, to be responsible for that. It's so important.
That's the way it has to be.

"You look at what we've been through this year. There're been ups and downs, but at some point you have to figure it out. I would say we're at that point.

"We're 50 games into the season, how much longer do you go? You keep wondering, 'Geez, are we getting it or not getting it?' Hey, let's get it."

An amazing mark -- By now, we all have become accustomed to Martin Brodeur breaking records, but the fact he notched his 30th win Wednesday night while posting his League-leading seventh shutout was startling.

The game against Florida was New Jersey's 48th of the season and Brodeur has won 30 of them. That's the fewest number of games he's needed to reach 30 since 2006-07 when it took 49 games. Perhaps even more amazing is it is the 13th time in his 16 NHL seasons that Brodeur had won at least 30 games.

"It's always my first goal," Brodeur said. "When I start the season, I'm looking at 30 wins because I know there's not many goalies who are able to get there in a full season, so when you get there, you're doing well. Now, we're going to look at 35."

Well Said I -- "They outhit us, they outplayed us, they outcoached us, they out-everythinged us. The only thing we did right was, the bus was on time to get to this game. The bus driver was the best thing we had." -- Lightning coach Rick Tocchet following Tuesday's 8-2 loss to the Rangers.

Changing what you can -- The axiom goes, "It's easier to change the coach than the players," and it has been the underlying philosophy in countless coaching changes over the years.

It also has given Ken Hitchcock a new wrinkle on coaching, namely how to handle players. Notoriously demanding, Hitchcock is re-examining things according to Michael Arace of the Columbus Dispatch.

During a visit to Edmonton on Jan. 7, the Jackets had lost 21 of 24 games and things were about as desperate as desperate gets. Hitchcock had lunch with an old friend, Wilf Brooks, who pointed out the simplicity of numbers.

"If things aren't working, don't expect the 20 players to change -- change the one," Brooks told Hitchcock. "You embrace the change. You are the one person to make the adjustment."

So, Hitchcock purchased a notebook and began jotting things down, personalized things about each player that will help him relate.

"The adjustment I have to make as a coach is to the personality of the team, which changes every year," Hitchcock told Arace. "And there are times when less is more.

"Sometimes, what you think is good is burning people out," he said.

Remembering two dads -- The Nashville Predators are on their annual father-son trip, where the players' dads come along and experience life on the road.

For Joel Ward, whose father passed away when he was 14, there was never a question that he would bring along Rodger Minard, his second dad, who Ward told John Glennon of The Tennessean "taught me the ropes."

Randall Ward, Joel's father, died when he was 14, days after suffering a stroke in the stands while watching his son play in a youth game. As Glennon reports, three years later, Ward found a second father in Minard, the man whose family housed Ward when he left home at age 17 to pursue a professional hockey career. Ward would spend the better part of the next four years at the home of Minard and his wife -- raiding the pantry, sleeping late whenever he could and forming bonds that have carried on to this day.

"I could have taken one of my older brothers along, but I feel like this is a way to give back to Rodger for what he did for me over the years," Ward said. "It's my way of showing my appreciation and saying, 'Hey, Rog, thanks for being there for me over the years.' "

Well said II -- "They've brought some young guys in and given them a lot of experience, especially last year. They're hard workers and they're skilled. You combine that, and you're going to get results." -- Sidney Crosby on the Islanders

Any day now -- The Atlanta Thrashers may soon welcome back Kari Lehtonen. Remember him?

The goalie has yet to play this season after undergoing two surgeries on his back, the last one in October. But Lehtonen has gotten to the point where he will likely have a couple rehab starts in the AHL in the near future.

"We are getting to a point now where he is hitting a bit of a wall with practice," Thrashers coach John Anderson told the Atlanta Journal Constitution. "What I mean by that is we have three goalies out there. ... At some point in the very near future we are going to have to decide if we send him on a conditioning stint, maybe to [AHL] Chicago, to get some games in. We want to make sure he's ready to succeed in the National Hockey League and not throw him to the wolves right away."

Iginla laments lack of results -- Jarome Iginla is, well, Jarome Iginla, so you have come to expect big things from him. But with the Flames suffering through bouts of inconsistency this season, some of the focus has been on Iginla, who has been slumping of late.

"My desire is there," Iginla told reporters after the Sharks shellacked the Flames 9-1 Monday. "I want to get better and want to be good for this team and I want to win. It's there. Unfortunately, the results haven't."

As for questions regarding his leadership, Iginla was philosophical.

"That's what happens when you don't win. I understand when you're on a losing streak it's part of what goes with it," he said. "I think we've got a good team and have to turn this around. The only thing that can answer those questions is to turn it around as a team.

"We have to prove it on the ice."

Farewell to Peca -- No one will ever accuse Michael Peca of taking it easy during his career. No, Peca emptied his tank on the ice for 13 NHL seasons and always earned his pay check.

So hail and farewell to Peca, 35, who announced his retirement this week.

He played for the Canucks, Sabres, Islanders, Oilers, Maple Leaf and Blue Jackets and scored 176 goals and 289 assists in 864 games. Over the course of his career, Peca won two Selke Trophies as the NHL's top defensive forwards, played in the 1999 and 2006 Stanley Cup Finals and won a gold medal with Team Canada at the 2002 Winter Olympics.

"I'm not sad by any means," he said. "Several months ago, I came to the decision I wasn't going to play anymore. Today's really just a day that I made a public statement. For me, it was so every time I run into old friends, they quit asking me if I'm done or not. Now they've got the answer. It's kind of like a mass e-mail.

"He hasn't had the surrounding guys as much this year and that has made it harder. But it's amazing when all you do is check, check, check, it's because you don't have the puck as much as you are used to." -- Mike Babcock

"I made so many friendships in the game that I can't imagine my life today having not met the hundreds or more people that I've come across," Peca said. "That's really what defines our lives -- the people that you meet and the people that you keep close to. That's life in a nutshell and I'm very, very fortunate."

Well Said III -- "I won't be flashing my teeth because I think they just got kicked in. That's the way it feels anyway." -- Oilers coach Pat Quinn after Edmonton dropped their 8th-straight game Monday in Colorado, 6-0.

Staying on edge -- Eric Duhatschek of the Toronto Globe and Mail recently had a very interesting story on how sharpening skates in a new way can lead to better performance. Take a look.

Hats off to Behme, Pens -- Ever wonder what happens to the hats tossed on the ice following a hat trick? Well in Pittsburgh, the discarded chapeaus go to a good cause thanks to Mike Behme, 15, who hands out the hats to clients of the West Allegheny Food Bank for his Eagle Scout project.

With the Penguins already notching a handful of hat tricks at home this season, Mike has been a busy guy. According to a story in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Behme has been donating the hats to assorted charities with a total of 3,700 hats benefitting the Mike's Hat Tricks 4 Humanity project.

"We really did not know what they did with the hats, and we wanted to find out," he told the paper. "So through some well-asked, well-placed questions, we found out they just threw out the hats. I wanted to put the Penguins hats to good use."

Mike and fellow members of Boy Scout Troop 830 of Clinton benefitted greatly when Crosby scored a hat trick on souvenir hat night, giving the scouts 11 big bags of hats. In all, Mike has collected more than 2,200 hats from five Penguins hat tricks -- two by Crosby, two by Malkin and one by Chris Kunitz.

"I've gotten ones that still have the tags on them to ones that are so bad we have to throw them out," Mike said. "The majority of them are in good condition, but they definitely needed to be washed."

Anyone who wants to donate to Hat Tricks 4 Humanity or suggest an organization to receive hats can reach Mike at

A proud garbage man -- As countless kids have been told over the course of time, there is nothing wrong with taking out the garbage. Of course in hockey circles that has a different connotation, namely to bang in loose pucks around the net for garbage goals.

Phil Esposito's penchant for taking abuse in front of the net and banging home goals got him into the Hockey Hall of Fame. This season, Dany Heatley is on a similar track in San Jose.

This season, Heatley has 29 goals through 51 games, so there are no complaints from coach Todd McLellan, but he thought Heatley's goals would be of a more artistic variety.

"I thought when we got this guy that we'd see him slamming home one-timers from the blue line," McLellan told Mark Emmons of the San Jose Mercury News. "But most of his are dirty-work goals in the paint. Heater scores some ugly goals."

But one man's ugly goal is another man's artistic success, especially if it means wins.

"There's still the odd goal that's a one-timer, where you have time to make a pretty shot," Heatley said. "But this is similar to what I've always done -- dirty goals around the net."

"You usually think of a goal-scorer being a little soft," linemate Joe Thornton said. "But he's been totally the opposite. He's tight defensively. He's physical. He's a lot more than I expected, and I think he's gotten better since he arrived here."

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