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Hudler still looking to click in return to Wings

by Brian Hedger
DETROIT -- This is not the way Jiri Hudler envisioned his return to the National Hockey League.
Hudler came back to the Detroit Red Wings this season after opting to play in Russia last season. Most -- including Hudler -- figured he'd be a big point-producing addition to an already-stacked Detroit lineup.
It hasn't worked out that way through seven games, however, with the Wings poised to host Phoenix on Thursday at Joe Louis Arena.
Hudler still is searching for his first goal and has just 2 points and a minus-6 rating. His center on the Wings' third line, Mike Modano, also is minus-6, while the line's third member, Danny Cleary, is minus-4. Despite the Wings' current two-game win streak, that line has finished with minus ratings in each of the past two games.
"I thought the last three or four games we've had good games, but that doesn't mean anything until you produce," Hudler told following Detroit's practice Thursday. "You can have a lot of scoring chances and look good, but if you're a minus three games in a row, it's not good."
Hudler doesn't feel like an adjustment needs to be made in his game after not playing for the Wings last season, but admits the numbers indicate otherwise.
"It looks like an issue now, but I feel great physically," said Hudler, who had 23 goals and scored 57 points in 82 regular-season games for Detroit in 2008-09. "I'm starting to get frustrated, obviously. (But) I don't feel like there is an adjustment because I've been in this organization a long time. I know what to do."
Modano and Cleary know what to do, too -- though Modano, 40, still might be getting accustomed to the Wings' system after joining the team as a free agent this summer.
Is their line having issues with unfamiliarity? Possibly, but Hudler isn't ready to use that excuse.
"Mike is new to the system, but he's a veteran guy, a future Hall of Famer, and he knows what to do," Hudler said. "We've just got to keep grinding and one is going to get in. That might help turn it back to where we want it. We're hoping for (better chemistry) and working for it … but it better be soon."
Lidstrom to pair with Stuart -- Searching for a more physical player to go with top defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom, Detroit coach Mike Babcock is pairing the veteran Swedish star with 6-foot-2, 210-pound Brad Stuart for tonight's game against Phoenix.
It's something Babcock is trying while veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski recovers from knee surgery that's kept him out of all but two games and likely will require at least a couple more weeks to heal.
"It gives (Lidstrom) a physical guy who can match up and go get pucks for him and let him make plays," Babcock said. "I don't know if that's our best group when we get our six together that we envisioned playing at the start of the year, but it's a good pair for us at this point."
Turris off to fast start -- Phoenix rookie forward Kyle Turris was taken by the Coyotes with the third pick of the 2007 Entry Draft, right after Patrick Kane (No. 1) and James van Riemsdyk (No. 2).
While those two met in the Stanley Cup Final last season, Turris watched and wondered when he'd get another chance with the Coyotes. He spent last season in the American Hockey League with the San Antonio Rampage after recording 8 goals and 20 points and finishing with a minus-15 rating in 63 games with Phoenix in 2008-09.
Turris isn't worried about measuring up to his draft classmates this season. Instead, he's worried most about measuring up to Coyotes coach Dave Tippett's expectations.
"I just wanted to make the team and do everything I could to chip in if I did," said Turris, who has 3 goals and 4 points in six games. "I had a good camp and made the team. Now I'm just trying to contribute as much as I can. I feel strong. I feel comfortable, and I just felt like this was going to be a good year."
Tippett likes what he's seen so far from Turris, and thinks the pressure of being a high draft pick actually will help him.
"Knowing Kyle as a player and as a person, he uses that pressure in a good way," Tippett said following the Coyotes' practice Thursday. "He wants to be successful. He wants to be a real good player. Expectations are high for him, but he accepts that. I like his attitude toward it."

"I watched a lot of Nick Lidstrom and I just tried to do what he does."
-- Oliver Ekman-Larsson

Ekman-Larsson impressing -- Phoenix is like a lot of recent NHL teams who have decided a teenager on the blue line isn't the end of the world.
In fact, 19-year old Oliver Ekman-Larsson is opening a lot of eyes on the Coyotes. He's already drawing some comparisons to Lidstrom at the same age, and for good reason -- Ekman-Larsson was a big Lidstrom fan growing up in Karlskrona, Sweden.
"I watched a lot of Nick Lidstrom and I just tried to do what he does," said Ekman-Larsson, Phoenix's first round pick (No. 6) in the 2009 Entry Draft. "He's a really good player and he was my favorite player to watch when I was growing up."
He's already gotten to play against Lidstrom and the Wings once this season, in Phoenix on Oct. 16. Ekman-Larsson didn't get to meet his childhood hero, though. He did meet Detroit's other Swedish defensemen, Niklas Kronwall and Jonathan Ericsson.
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