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St. Louis Blues vs. Detroit Red Wings @NHLdotcom
Blues-Red Wings Preview

GAME: St. Louis Blues (39-30-11-2) at Detroit Red Wings (48-21-11-2).

TIME: Wednesday, 7:30 p.m. EDT.

Maybe the Detroit Red Wings won't dominate the NHL the way they did before the salary cap, but enough star power remains to at least keep them near the top of the league.

The Red Wings play their first game under new coach Mike Babcock when they face the St. Louis Blues at Joe Louis Arena in the front end of a home-and-home series.

Detroit has been one of the league's powers over the past decade, winning Stanley Cup titles in 1997, 1998 and 2002. In the 10 years before the NHL lockout that canceled last season, Detroit and Colorado tied for an NHL-high 89 playoff victories.

One reason for that success was the Red Wings' ability to spend freely during the offseason - and midseason - to retain and acquire Hall of Fame-caliber talent.

With the implementation of a salary cap, Detroit can no longer operate in that manner so several marquee players from 2003-04 aren't with the team this season, including Brett Hull, Darren McCarty, Curtis Joseph and coach Dave Lewis.

Lewis took over as head coach after Scotty Bowman retired following the 2001-02 title. Lewis was unable to match that success in his two seasons so Babcock, 69-76-19 over two seasons in Anaheim, was hired in July.

"Sometimes it's refreshing to have a new coaching staff because everyone is starting at square one and (Babcock) has something that we all want - ice time," Detroit's Brendan Shanahan said. "Nothing we did the last year we played, or three Cups ago, has any currency with him because it's all about what you do today."

Although some players have departed, the Red Wings are still loaded with many players who are already All-Stars, or could reach that status.

Captain Steve Yzerman is back for his 22nd season and remains the face of the franchise. Yzerman, who leads all active players with 1,721 points, likely will not play Wednesday due to a groin injury.

Two of Detroit's most important players are also two of its youngest - Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Both signed multiyear contracts as restricted free agents to return after months of negotiations.

"Those two kids are special," Red Wings winger Kris Draper said. "And the new rules are going to be exciting for them."

Also part of what remains a strong offense are forwards Robert Lang, Shanahan and Tomas Holmstrom. Lang had 79 points in 2003-04 between Washington and Detroit, Shanahan has 558 career goals and Holmstrom had 15 goals and 15 assists in 67 games in 2003-04.

Leading Detroit's defense will be Nicklas Lidstrom, a three-time Norris Trophy winner, Chris Chelios, the league's oldest player at 43, and Mathieu Schneider.

The new rules should help Lidstrom improve upon the 38 points he had in 2003-04. Chelios is still a physical player that can contribute offensively, and Schneider had 14 goals and 32 assists in 2003-04.

With Joseph gone, this could be the season that Manny Legace sheds his label as career backup and assumes the team's No. 1 role. Legace, who posted a 2.12 goals-against average in a career-high 41 games in 2003-04, will start Wednesday.

"It'll be a little nerve-wrecking," Legace said about his start. "Before, I'd just be able to enjoy the festivities. Now I've got to worry about a game."

St. Louis has qualified for the playoffs in 25 straight seasons, the longest streak in professional sports, but extending that run this year will be difficult.

Mike Kitchen enters his first full season as coach after going 10-7-4-0 in 21 games in 2003-04 following the firing of Joel Quenneville.

The Blues will begin this season without their three top defensemen from 2003-04 - Chris Pronger, traded to Edmonton for three players, Al MacInnis, now retired, and Barret Jackman, out for the first few games with a separated shoulder.

Taking over as the team's top defenseman will be Eric Brewer, acquired from the Oilers in the Pronger deal. Brewer is one of the league's best young defenseman, but will face added pressure this season.

"Deals are made and things happen," Blues center Doug Weight said. "You lose a great player like Prongs and after seeing these kids in camp, I think we got three great players for him. It's all about chemistry and it's going to be a league full of parity."

Without Pronger and MacInnis, veteran forwards Keith Tkachuk and Doug Weight will take on an even bigger role with the Blues.

Tkachuk, however, reported to training camp out of shape and was suspended for failing a physical. He scored in his first preseason game and will be expected to at least match the 33 goals he had in 2003-04.

Taking over as St. Louis' No. 1 goaltender this season will be Patrick Lalime, who has won 25 or more games in each of the last four seasons. He helped Ottawa get to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals in 2003-04 with an 11-7 playoff record and a 1.82 GAA.

2003-04 STANDINGS: Blues - 91 points, 2nd place, 18 PB, Central Division. Red Wings - 109 points, 1st place, Central Division.

2003-04 TEAM LEADERS: Blues - Tkachuk, 33 goals and 71 points; Weight, 51 assists; Mike Danton and Reed Low, 141 PIM. Red Wings - Datsyuk, 30 goals; Hull, 43 assists; Datsyuk and Hull, 68 points; Brendan Shanahan, 117 PIM.

2003-04 SPECIAL TEAMS: Blues - Power play: 17.8 percent (61 for 341), 9th in NHL. Penalty killing: 84.5 percent (312 for 369), 14th. Red Wings - Power play: 20.0 percent (63 for 314), 5th. Penalty killing: 86.7 percent (275 for 317), 1st.

2003-04 GOALTENDERS: Blues - Chris Osgood (31-25-8, 3 SO, 2.24 GAA); Reinhard Divis (4-4-2, 0, 2.76). Red Wings - Legace (23-10-5, 3, 2.12); Joseph (16-10-3, 2, 2.39).

2003-04 SEASON SERIES: Red Wings, 4-1-1-0.

LAST MEETING: April 1, 2004; Red Wings, 3-2. At St. Louis, rookie Marc Lamothe had 26 saves in his second start of the season as Detroit secured the NHL's regular-season points title.

2003-04 ROAD/HOME RECORDS: Blues - 16-19-4-2 on the road; Red Wings - 30-7-4-0 at home.

Associated Press
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