A few thoughts as the playoff races begin to take shape in the final weeks before All-Star Weekend:
Always using his head
-- In his second tour of duty with the New Jersey Devils
, veteran center Bobby Holik
continues to play the hard-nosed, gritty type of hockey that has kept him in the NHL for 18 seasons.
In Sunday's 4-3 loss to the Anaheim Ducks
, Holik scored his 200th goal as a member of the Devils. He got it in unorthodox fashion, as a shot by defenseman Mike Mottau
appeared to strike Holik up high, in the facial area, then ricochet into the net.
"I was not apologizing for anything, I was just happy that I didn't have any more facial damage," Holik joked during an interview after the second period. "Luckily it was Mike Mottau
shooting the puck … he can't hurt a fly with that shot, so it's all good."
Good-natured kidding aside, Holik was asked whether the current six-game road trip the Devils are on might help to build camaraderie and bring the team closer together as it begins the second half of the season battling the Flyers and Rangers for first place in the Atlantic Division.
"Everybody says that every time a team has a long trip, it's a great morale builder," Holik said. "I think if we haven't built the morale up to this point, it could be too late because we are halfway through the season. So it's more or less the real test if you can show up every night to play the same way on the road.
"I hope we have a good enough morale to be competitive for the rest of the season (and) we don't have to wait for this trip to build it up."
Not a complex formula
-- They've already changed coaches, set a franchise record for consecutive victories and played before an adoring Wrigley Field crowd in the Winter Classic. With 40 games in the books, the Chicago Blackhawks
already have been through a lot this season, and at least one player thinks he has discovered the formula to success the rest of the way.
"We have to play hard and simple," Dave Bolland
said after scoring the decisive goal in Sunday's 3-1 win against the Nashville Predators
. "If we get off our game, we screw up. If we play it simple and hard, it will be an easy game for us."
It's seemed to come easy in general for the Blackhawks whenever they play at the United Center this season. Discounting the loss to Detroit at Wrigley, the team is 13-1-4 on home ice, and they bounced back against the Predators after losing the first game of a home-and-home in Nashville on Saturday.
"It was a better all-around effort," Chicago coach Joel Quenneville
said. "It was nice winning a tight game, on the line from start to finish. We had to keep doing the little things right and got rewarded."
The Blackhawks also got another strong effort from goaltender Nikolai Khabibulin
, who has an impressive 13-3-4 record after it appeared the team was looking to dump his contract during training camp.
Some extra pep
-- Although they were one of the League's hottest teams down the stretch last season, the Edmonton Oilers
fell just short of a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs because they dug themselves too big a hole from which to climb out.
Defenseman Steve Staios
doesn't want to see that be the case again, so he was happy when the team responded to a players-only meeting after a loss to San Jose on Friday by edging the St. Louis Blues
2-1 on Sunday at Rexall Place.
"It's always great to see the initial reaction after you have a talk like that," Staios said. "We showed a lot more emotion and played a much better skating game. We had great support from our forwards tonight. It helped us move the puck out of our zone. We spent far less time in our own zone tonight and I think that was a key factor in the win. It was an all-team effort."
netted the game-winning goal and assisted on Gilbert Brule
's first goal of the season. Ryan Potulny
, just called up after leading Springfield of the AHL in points, collected a pair of assists. Edmonton closed to within two points of eighth in a jam-packed Western Conference playoff race.
"We played a smart game," Oilers coach Craig MacTavish
said. "We played a lot smarter than we had the last couple games. We didn't blow them out of the water or anything, but we had a very sharp game."
Material from wire services and team broadcast media was used in this report.