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Wings accept factors for slow start, reject excuses

by Phil Coffey
Injuries? No excuse.

New players? No excuse.

New coaches? No excuse.

The NHL is a bottom-line place, so excuses aren't acceptable among fans, media, players, coaches, etc.

That does not mean, however, that there aren't factors into why a team is succeeding or failing. Let's take a look at the Detroit Red Wings as an example. Heading into weekend play, the Wings are a pedestrian 3-3-2, having scored 24 goals and allowed 28. So why the middling start?

We're talking transition here and not the on-ice version of going from offense to defense. A veteran club over the past several seasons, the Wings are icing a fairly significant number of newcomers on the roster this season. An excuse for the start? No, but a factor to be sure.

"Every night we play with six forwards who didn’t play for us last year," coach Mike Babcock told Chris McCosky of the Detroit News. "It's a bit of a change. But if you look around the League, it's the same for everybody else."

Detroit is playing Justin Abdelkader, Ville Leino and Jimmy Howard, three rookies, so that's an adjustment. Johan Franzen is out until February after knee surgery. Also factor in that Darren Helm and Jonathan Ericsson are full-timers this season, not the case last season. Again, more transition. And Todd Bertuzzi, Patrick Eaves, Jason Williams and Brad May are experienced NHL players, but not experienced Red Wing players.

Again, not excuses, but factors to be sure.

"Right off the hop, there's a lot of information to take in," veteran Kris Draper said. "But the bottom line is you have to go out and play a game. I think what you've seen early is guys trying too hard to be in the right spots. The more you think, the slower you are, right? It's just a matter of going out and playing and getting more confident in playing with different guys in certain situations."

"I think when you have new players it's a matter of them getting used to our system and getting to know how we play," Nicklas Lidstrom said. "You can't just insert a number of players and expect to be right back where you want to be all the time. It takes time sometimes, and that's why you have to stick with the system that you're playing and stick with your foundation and not get away from playing the way you want to play."

Despite it all, however, Babcock sees no reason for the Red Wings to languish.

"What's important to understand is, it doesn't matter how you win. You just gotta win," he said. "If you are not playing like you did in the past or if you have to do things a lot harder -- so what? As a team, just do it for one another, dig in and find a way to win."

Oilers also transitioning -- The Edmonton Oilers head into the weekend 6-2-1, with 30 goals scored and 21 allowed, so it has been a good start under Pat Quinn and Tom Renney, but neither coach is satisfied.

"We're not oblivious to the fact that we have some work to do," said Renney, the associate coach, who compared getting the Oilers on track to putting a cast on a broken bone. "The team had been broken, so we had to cast it with structure, accountability and a game plan. A new cast is a pain in the butt. It's uncomfortable; you wanted to take it off because it was cumbersome. At the same time, you are healing.

"That's what we're doing right now -- we're a team that's healing from within. It's a good sign and it's a testament to the players that the responsibility falls on them, too."

"We have a low threshold for panic right now," Quinn said after a 2-1 win against Vancouver on Monday. "It's about preparation. You have to know beforehand what you're going to do, before you get to the puck. You have to make a decision. The next thing you know, it's in our net.

"We've got to be less dangerous to ourselves."

Well Said I -- "I just play. It will come eventually. The margin of error is a little different than just a win. I'll just go about what I do and sometimes when the games are tight it makes it easier to get a shutout because the margin of error, not just for me but for everybody, is the same."

-- Martin Brodeur, on surpassing the NHL's shutout mark.

Happy to 'C' you -- Leadership just seems to run in the Koivu family. Saku Koivu was the captain of the Montreal Canadiens until signing with the Anaheim Ducks this season, and now brother Mikko has been named captain of the Minnesota Wild.

Unlike past seasons, when the Wild named a new captain each month, Koivu will keep the "C" on his jersey indefinitely and the assistant captains will rotate on a monthly basis.

For new Wild coach Todd Richards, selecting Koivu as captain just made a lot of sense.

"Mikko shows up every single night," Richards told reporters. "He's very focused, very disciplined. And the best thing about him is he's very, very passionate about playing the game. He goes out every shift determined to win his battles. When you watch the way he practices and plays the game, there are lots of other players like that, but Mikko takes it to another level."

"The best way to lead is by example, and that's what I'm trying to do," Koivu said. "Play the game the way I'm used to playing, the way I've always played. It's a great honor I'm proud of it. And in the State of Hockey, with all the fans and how people feel about it, that makes it even more special for me."

Couple big minutemen for Preds -- Aside from goalies, who obviously are on ice for virtually an entire game, defensemen are next when it comes to logging ice time. In fact, the top 30 in average ice time this season are defensemen, with the Flyers' Chris Pronger leading the pack at 28:13 per game.

Last Saturday against the Washington Capitals, Nashville Predators defensemen Shea Weber and Ryan Suter were giving Pronger some company. Sutter played 32:14 and Weber 29:14 in a 3-2 shootout loss.

"I was like, 'Wow, that was a long one,'" Suter told Bryan Mullen of The Tennessean. "Just drained."

Blame it on Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin. Predators coach Barry Trotz wanted his two top defensemen on the ice when the Washington gunners were out there, which meant frequent shifts for Suter and Weber.

"We consciously did that knowing we had a break here," Trotz said, referring to the three days off before a 3-2 loss in Boston on Wednesday. "We were going to load them up a little bit for that game."

Well Said II -- "I have three young kids, 9, 7 and 5, and I thought at this stage in my life, I want to be with my family. But now I'm gaining practical, viable experience, so later on, public service is a possibility."

-- retired goalie Mike Richter, on the possibility of running for political office

Bet you didn't know -- It's no secret that teams don't like to trade players with rivals. There is just too much chance of someone coming back to haunt you.

But I never knew that prior to sending Daniel Paille to the Bruins this week, the Buffalo Sabres and Bruins never had made a deal involving players under contract. Sure, some draft picks have exchanged hands over the years, but no roster players.

"I didn't know that, but it's not surprising given the divisional rivalry," Sabres GM Darcy Regier told John Vogl of the Buffalo News. "What it really speaks to is the economics of the National Hockey League today. Ironically, I was one that always wanted to place a player in the Western Conference. It's not always doable, and in this case it wasn't doable. So you make the best deal you can in the Eastern Conference.

"Where teams are with the salary-cap situation, I think you have to make the deal that is best for your organization. I think the days of not dealing with teams in your own division or own conference are gone. ... You just have to hope that the player you're dealing helps that team beat the other teams in your division."

Vogl calculated over that span the Sabres and Bruins have played 245 regular-season games and met eight times in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Sabers get Boston's third-round selection in the 2010 entry draft and a conditional fourth-round pick next June.

"I initiated it a while back, not specifically with Boston, but I contacted a number of teams about our situation, that we had a lot of forwards," said Regier. "(Rookie Tim Kennedy) makes our team in the middle and he pushes people out to the wing. Next thing you know, you've got an abundance of left wingers. That's really the only reason that we were able to make this move.

"We've got some young guys that we'll probably have to make room for at some point in the not-too-distant future. I'm not suggesting it's going to be this year, but we've got some younger guys that are going to play. Danny is just a very solid player. Like all players, they have strengths and weaknesses. For me, Danny doesn't even have a weakness, per say. He's a good, quality player."

A grand career for Whitney
-- Congratulations to Ray Whitney of the Carolina Hurricanes, who skated in his 1,000th regular-season game Wednesday in a 4-3 shootout loss to the Islanders.

The Hurricanes plan to honor Whitney's accomplishment Nov. 1, prior to a game with the San Jose Sharks.

"He's had an interesting turn, with the list of waivers and all the other things he's gone through to be such a good player. It's amazing," Hurricanes coach Paul Maurice told Chip Alexander of the Raleigh News & Observer. "So many times fit has a lot to do with it -- being on the right team at the right time that needs exactly what you have. And now you look at him and you say, 'How could any team not want what he has?'"

Whitney certainly has gotten around. The former Edmonton Oilers stickboy has played for the Sharks, Oilers, Panthers, Blue Jackets and Red Wings before finding a home in Carolina, where he has played the last five seasons. During his career Whitney has had to fight the label that at 5-foot-10 and 180 pounds he was too small for the NHL. With over 300 goals and 500 assists, he has proven those critics wrong.

"I heard that from the time I was bantam age all the way up," he said. "I was always fairly small, so that was never a shock when I heard that. You can probably still hear it in certain corners.

"Now I'm too old and too small. I guess if they predict every year you're going to collapse, eventually they'll get it right."

"I don't think he has to listen to any of that anymore," teammate Scott Walker said of the too-small talk. "You have to go through a lot of tough times to play 1,000 games in this League. He's a really good hockey player, he's won a Stanley Cup and now he's playing in his 1,000th game. He is who he is. He should be proud."


Finding the silver lining -- Losing Daniel Sedin is not good news for the Vancouver Canucks, to be sure. But sometimes, you have to find the good in the bad, as Canucks coach Alain Vigneault did this week after learning Daniel will be out for three weeks with a broken left foot.
"I still can't tell them apart," Vigneault said, noting he will not have trouble dealing with twin Henrik Sedin now. "Well, I can now, that's the positive thing about this situation. As soon as I see Hank right now in this environment, I know it's him, and as soon as I see Danny on crutches, I know it's him. It's the first time I've been able to do that since they've been here.

"What I did the first two years I was here, every time I crossed either one of them, I always said, 'How's it going Danny,' and I had a 50-50 chance of being right. On the ice when I'm looking at them and I have something important to tell them I always ask, 'Which one are you?' And then they turn around and show me the number on the back of their helmet."

Well Said III -- "Tipper and Dave King are real solid coaches. They gave them structure. But also, I was looking at some of their players today and you think they've just arrived, but they've been in the organization five years and now are becoming a player. They've drafted high for a long time. ... They're doing things right. They've added some veteran guys to help Shane Doan. I think they've got a good group there, and (Ilya) Bryzgalov's playing really well."

-- Detroit's Mike Babcock on the Phoenix Coyotes

Patience is a virtue -- You can tell Simon Gagne to be patient, but that doesn't make it any easier for the Flyers' forward, who is off to a slow start with 4 assists through seven games.

Of course there are factors -- not excuses!, see above -- for the slow start. Gagne is coming off summer hip surgery and also was slowed by a groin strain at Team Canada's Olympic orientation camp in August.

"They said I need to be patient with it,” Gagne told Wayne Fish of the Bucks County Courier Times. "It may be a little before Christmas time that I might see the end of it."

For a player whose game is based on skating skills, hip and groin problems are going to slow things to a crawl, but he is trying to remain positive that he'll get back to top form.

"With the schedule that we have right now, it's hard. I am starting to feel better, feel my game, feel my legs. From the surgery I had in the summer I'm going to have to expect that I am not going to be 100 percent right away."

"He just looks like he's coming along," coach John Stevens said. "I think he's starting to skate more and he needs to skate, use his quickness, to be a good player. I would like to see him shoot the puck more; he's got a world-class shot. He can beat goalies from a distance."

Nieuwendyk retired again -- Dallas Stars GM Joe Nieuwendyk has been retired from the playing ranks for a couple seasons now, but he is going to be retired one more time on Feb. 26, when his alma mater, Cornell, retires his No. 25.

Nieuwendyk and former Big Red goalie Ken Dryden each will be honored as the university celebrates the 40th anniversary of the 1969-70 NCAA championship.

"It's a huge honor, and it's very special," Nieuwendyk told Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News. "I'm up there all the time in the summer, and I really like to stay involved, so this will be a really nice thing for me."

Nieuwendyk played at Cornell from 1984-87. In 73 games, he had 68 goals and 71 assists for 139 points. He was named player of the year for the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference during the 1986-87 season.

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