DETROIT – History can be made tonight at Joe Louis Arena.
A Red Wings’ victory over the visiting Edmonton Oilers on Thursday will solidify Mike Babcock in the pages of the franchise’s record book.
Babcock is one win shy of reaching career-coaching win No. 200, which will make him the second fastest coach to reach the milestone in club history.
Former Wings coach Tommy Ivan needed 353 games to reach 200 wins. Babcock has coached 358 games in less than 4 ½ NHL seasons.
“The first thing I want to do is win, let’s get that straight,” said Babcock, who has a 199-103-56 career record. “It means that you’ve lasted in the league a little bit, and you’ve been real fortunate to coach really good players.”
Last season, Babcock became the second-fastest NHL coach to win 100 games with a team. He also became the first Wings’ coach to lead the club to back-to-back 50-win seasons.
This season he can become the first coach in NHL history to guide a team to three consecutive 50-win seasons in his first three seasons with a team.
“We’ve been on a good run here since I’ve been in Detroit and we’ve won a lot of games with a lot of high-end players who play real hard and play real well,” Babcock said. “It’s great to be part of a franchise that’s doing good things on a consistent basis. And obviously, when the team does well there’s lots of individual successes a long the way.”
The feeling about Babcock has been mutual for the players in the locker room.
“It helped when he took over right after the lockout,” captain Nicklas Lidstrom
said. “We still had some of the faces that have been here for a while, but we needed someone new, someone fresh. So he was a good fit for the team when he came here.”
Prior to picking Babcock for the coaching gig in Hockeytown, general manager Ken Holland sought a tougher game manager.
“Coming out of the work-stoppage when we made the decision that we were going to go in a different direction behind the bench,” Holland said. “I was looking for somebody who was going to be a little bit more demanding. The things I knew about Mike before coming here is that he had tremendous passion. He loves hockey and he has a real good work ethic. I know he’s demanding. He’s strong in his beliefs and nobody’s going to come in and push him over.”
Babcock has had the Midas touch wherever he’s been. He led the senior Canadian team to the World Championship in 2004, and he’s the only Canadian coach to lead both the senior and junior teams to World Championship tourneys.
Prior to accepting the Wings’ post, Babcock coached Anaheim to its first Stanley Cup finals appearance in 2003.
“He brings intensity and he really pays attention to details whether it’s our systems or if we’re getting too sloppy out there,” Lidstrom said. “It’s not different than other coaches, but he really pays attention to the little details all of the time.”
Under Babcock, no stone is left unturned, which is why the NHL-leading Red Wings haven’t endured a four-game stretch without getting a single point in two-plus seasons.
It’s been a perfect storm.
“What we were getting was younger, quicker and harder, so it kind of arrived at the same time,” Babcock said. “I think timing is everything in coaching, and I think it’s the same way in playing; you have to arrive at the right time. If you’re a shortstop and you arrive in Baltimore when Cal Ripken is in his second year, you’re probably not going to get to play. The same thing with coaching, you have to arrive at the right time. The talent has to be there and I’ve been fortunate.”
Currently, the team is on a seven game winning streak. They lead the league with 46 points – 12 points ahead of St. Louis and Columbus in the Central Division.
The Wings’ power play and penalty-kill units have been among the league-best under Babcock and his assistants Paul MacLean and Todd McLellan.
This season, the Wings’ power play is fourth best, scoring 33 goals on 149 chances. The penalty-kill is equally stellar, holding opponents to 20 goals on 150 man-advantages.
Babcock’s philosophy coupled with the abundance of talent at his disposal has created a perfect storm.
“He made some changes and he put his touch on the way we play and it’s been working good,” said Henrik Zetterberg
, the Wings’ leading scorer. “The team that we’ve had here since he’s been coaching is pretty good, too.
“It’s a real good mix, the pace of the game. We skate a lot and we work a lot. We try to do everything at a high pace, and we’ve got the skill in this room to do that, and he brings the fastest game out of us. It’s a fun way to play.”
For Babcock, he says coaching success is all about being consistent.
“If you never had to make hard decisions, or keep people accountable, anybody could be the coach,” Babcock said. “I’ve learned a lot from Scotty (Bowman). It’s not about being there friend. It’s not about being social with them. It’s about getting them to play at the top of their game as much as you possibly can . . . without grinding on them. That’s the fine line. How do you do it over 82 games, every year without grinding them to death?”
Is Babcock’s methodology always viewed positively in the locker room?
“Not always,” Zetterbreg said. “His way of playing is a little different. But we always have a discussion if there’s something that we don’t like and want to change a bit. I think that’s real important to have. . . . He has an open approach.”