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Franzen has played vital role in Datsyuk's rebirth

by Phil Coffey
The numbers speak for themselves. In the first 11 games Johan Franzen has been back in the Detroit Red Wings' lineup since having knee surgery, Pavel Datsyuk has been, well, Pavel Datsyuk.

All season there has been debate about what was ailing Datsyuk, whose scoring numbers were merely mortal. Well, it seems Datsyuk was missing his favorite "Mule."

Since Franzen and his stubborn crease crashing has returned, Datsyuk is rejuvenated, scoring 7 goals and 5 assists in the span.

"I know they were good together before, but not that good," goaltender Chris Osgood told Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. "They are really clicking. Pav is a guy that makes everybody around him real good, and I think Mule does the same for him. Mule is a big guy who works the flank and when he goes to the net, Pav is able to get him the puck.

"It's a give-and-take thing for both. They really complement each other well, and Pav's not the easiest guy to play with. He does a lot of different things that other players can't do and Mule is able to read off him real well."

As you might expect from Datsyuk, he credited everyone but himself for getting his season turned around.

"Everybody comes back from injury and we are playing together now and playing well," he said. "I am playing the same. But the whole team is playing better, that's why it looks like I am playing better."

OK, we need to be more definitive here, so let's ask coach Mike Babcock. What gives with Datsyuk's resurgence that now shows 22 goals and 36 assists in 67 games?

"He can make plays all day long, but if no one ever shoots it in the net, what good is it?" Babcock said. "Mule is a huge talent, he's a big man and he's excited; he hasn't played all year and he's fresh. That helps Pavel and it helps our whole team."

And as McCosky pointed out, Franzen's return gives Babcock some options, too. Against the Flames on Monday, he used Franzen with Henrik Zetterberg and Tomas Holmstrom with Datsyuk for a different look.

"I am going to do that off and on now," Babcock said. "I really like the way that went, back and forth. Either guy can play those spots and I like that."

Big change for Boynton -- Nick Boynton has gone from thinking that maybe his NHL career was nearing an end to being a counted-upon veteran on one of the League's top teams.

Signed by Anaheim last summer, Boynton was sent to the minors after 42 games with the Ducks and then was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks and assigned to the AHL.

Sounds like the end of the road, right?

However, the misfortune of Brian Campbell and Kim Johnsson -- and now Brian Seabrook -- has opened the door for Boynton to not only return to the NHL, but to play valuable minutes.

"It's a good chance for me and I'm really looking forward to it," Boynton told Tim Sassone of the Arlington Heights Daily Herald. "There's no sense trying to do too much. It's a simple game and I've just got to try to keep it that way and not overdo it."

Quite the change after feeling unloved in Anaheim after 42 games.

"Some of the people over there didn't care for the way I played maybe, but it couldn't work out better for me personally," Boynton said. "I'm just going to worry about myself and do my best to fit in."

Picking up the slack -- Nik Antropov has proven to be a very worthwhile addition to the Atlanta Thrashers, especially when the team needed someone to pick up some of the scoring slack after Ilya Kovalchuk was traded to New Jersey.

In 14 games since the trade, Antropov has scored 6 goals and 11 assists and already has matched his career high in points (59) and demolished his previous high in assists with 40. Dishing the puck to Kovalchuk was one of the primary reasons why Atlanta signed Antropov, so the fact he has continued his scoring since the deal is impressive

"Kovy is a pretty intimidating guy to play with," Thrashers coach John Anderson told Chris Vivlamore of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. "Not because of how he acts. When you are brought in with the perception of having to get him the puck, you are not even thinking about shooting the puck on net.

"Also he (Antropov) had sticks he didn't like. Now, he shoots way harder with the wrist shot. He's gaining a little more confidence. It's been like a progression. Now he feels good about the way he shoots the puck."

Well Said I -- "The game is all about one-on-one battles, and he wins them. Any time we talk about Brenden, it's not about his goal-scoring ability or his play-making ability, it's about his battle and his compete level. Knowing what you are and knowing what you need to bring, everything falls in line after that, and Brenden really seems comfortable with who he is right now." -- Stars coach Marc Crawford on Brenden Morrow

Boucher against the storm -- The Philadelphia Flyers' goal crease has been a roller-coaster this season. The holdovers from 2008-09, Marty Biron and Antero Niittymaki moved on, replaced by Ray Emery and Brian Boucher.

When Emery was bested by injury, the Flyers acquired the unheralded Michael Leighton, who went on to earn plenty of heralds for his strong play.

Now, with Emery gone for the season and Leighton nursing a high-ankle sprain for the next 8-10 weeks, the spotlight returns to Boucher, who might well be saying "Remember me?"

If ever a player has been given an opportunity to prove himself it's Boucher, a former Flyers' first-round pick in 1995 who took Philadelphia to the Eastern Conference Finals in '95, only to see New Jersey rally for the series win.

In recent years, Boucher has been a backup in Phoenix, Calgary, Columbus, Chicago and San Jose. Now, he is the most important player on a team many had hoped would contend for the Stanley Cup after acquiring Chris Pronger during the off-season.

"We're going to need our best players to be our best players," said Boucher, who got off on the right foot with a win in Dallas Thursday. "For me, I'm going to have to provide solid goaltending. If I don't do that, that will be a problem. I don't anticipate that being the case. I totally feel confident in my abilities and I think that I'll give this team a chance to keep pushing forward."

Well Said II -- "It's easy money (being paid not to work), but it's not what I want to do. I want to be behind the bench. Am I relieved to be out (of the daily stress)? No, not at all. I'm still sad that I lost that job." -- Former Montreal Canadiens coach Guy Carbonneau to the Montreal Gazette

Olympic hangover? -- Montreal Canadiens defenseman Andrei Markov enjoyed his time at the Olympics, but he is enjoying the NHL stretch drive more.

"Right now it's fun to play against any team. We're battling for the playoffs and the battle is going to go the rest of the season. It's fun. It's exciting. It's great.

"It's a great feeling, "but we have to realize we have to keep going."

In Anaheim, GM Bob Murray rejected the notion his large contingent of Olympians were distracted.

"Olympic hangover?" Murray told Eric Stephens of the Orange County Register. "Excuses are for losers. You knew the level of play was going to be higher coming out of the Olympics than it was going in. That's just the way our game is. You have to want it bad. Bottom line, we don't have enough guys wanting it bad."

On the comeback trail -- For Milan Lucic, the 2009-10 season has been one of frustration, but the Boston Bruins' winger never says die.

A variety of injuries have sidelined him for long portions of the season and scuttled an attempt to make the Canadian Olympic team and also to play in the 2010 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic on home ice at Fenway Park.

Now that he has finally gotten back on the ice, Lucic is shaking off the rust. With the Bruins in a life-and-death race to make the playoffs, improving his game couldn't be more welcomed.

"I feel like my game is getting a little better every day," Lucic told reporters. "I'm skating better, but I'm just trying to get back to 100 percent as quick as I can and try to create that presence that I usually do and I feel like it's coming back more and more.

"But I think for me, the biggest thing is just playing with emotion more than anything. When I play with a match lit under my (butt), no matter what injury I have, I almost feel like no one can take me down."

Play the cards you have -- It is what it is. That about sums up Mike Babcock's sentiments on the 2009-10 season when his Detroit Red Wings suffered through a huge roll call of injuries. Still, the Wings are in the fight for the final playoff berth in the West and Babcock won't waste time thinking about what might have been.
"We've got what we've earned," Babcock said. "So we have to embrace it and keep trying to be good. For a long time this year, we played very hard for the group we had. Now we have a good enough group. If we continue to play hard, I still think we'll be in."
Accolades for Phaneuf -- Defenseman Dion Phaneuf came to the Toronto Maple Leafs shortly before the Winter Olympics, but in that short time he has created a presence among the Leafs.

"He's kind of taken charge of our dressing room. He's been very vocal, very positive with all young guys," Leafs coach Ron Wilson told reporters. "He plays the game hard ... everything about Dion is very loud and it's starting to have an impact, especially on our young guys, with the enthusiasm he brings every day."

"You want to be a guy other teams don't like to play against. That's the way I am as a player," Phaneauf said. "To be effective I need the other team to not like playing against me."

A winning Legace -- Let's face it, when Manny Legace left the St. Louis Blues, most figured his NHL career left with him. But the 37-year-old goalie has revitalized his career with the Carolina Hurricanes.

His arrival came under pretty dire circumstances in early November when Cam Ward suffered a leg laceration and was headed to the injury list.

In 21 games with the 'Canes, he is 9-6-3 with a 2.40 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. But his biggest contributions have been to the team's psyche.

"He just loves being on the ice right now and appreciates his chance," coach Paul Maurice told Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News and Observer. "He's had a great career but he still loves to play."

"He's a real good team player. Funny, loose," Rod Brind'Amour said. "Even when he's not playing he still has a good attitude and is real positive. That's what you need. He's been through a lot. He's gotten his chance this year and he's played great."

By rights, Legace could be a bitter guy. He was the Blues' top goalie starting the 2008-09 season, but slipped on the carpet on the ice prior to a game at Scottrade Center and injured his hip. By the time he returned after a five-game absence, Chris Mason was the No. 1 guy for the Blues. He was waived and sent to the minors.

"My career was going pretty good, but that's what can happen," Legace told Alexander. "I didn't handle it professionally, which is my fault. It was just a big, bad year. Everything went wrong that year and then it began to snowball all summer long."

He was a man without a team this season, going to camp with Atlanta on a tryout before signing with the AHL's Chicago Wolves before the Hurricanes called.

"You really don't know how a player will do, especially at that point in their career," Canes GM Jim Rutherford said. "Manny's a good team guy, and he fits in well. He gives all he's got."

Sign 'em up -- Those who wonder why the Red Wings didn't make a big splash at the trade deadline or in free agency this season, here's the reason. GM Ken Holland is thinking ahead.

In addition to carving out minutes for some younger players, Holland wants to get defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom and forward Tomas Holmstrom, potential restricted free agents, re-signed.

"Homer and Nick Lidstrom, those guys aren't going anywhere," Holland told the Detroit News. "They just want to be treated fairly. So, I'm running a salary cap. I've got to find a number that fits; one that they feel good about and that I feel good about."

Both players are unlikely to go willingly elsewhere after all the success they've enjoyed in Detroit.

"Detroit has been so good to me over the years," Holmstrom said. "I have been fortunate to be part of four Stanley Cup teams here. I want to stay here and finish my career here."

"If we were talking about a player who was 28, was an unrestricted free agent and had some opportunities (to sign elsewhere), there would probably be a little more urgency," Holland said. "But Nick is 39 and Homer is 37. Both have good hockey left in them, both have been playing great and we want both to play for us next year."

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