The Detroit Red Wings
did create some doubts this season to be sure, but now that the end is in sight, it looks very much like the Wings are not life-and-death to make the playoffs, and with a good push could reach 100 points again. The Red Wings have seven games to play and can finish with a maximum of 105 points.
Getting everyone healthy, as has been mentioned in this space quite a few times, is key. It also doesn't hurt that rookie goalie Jimmy Howard
has looked like anything but a rookie. Of course, Howard actually is 26 and has four seasons of AHL experience under his belt, so he has developed a game coming into this season.
"It really, really helped," Howard told NHL.com's John Manasso of his time with the Grand Rapids Griffins. "The extra year down there was very beneficial for me and I was able to iron out some things."
"He's a guy that's done a good job for us," Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He's gotten us to the point we're at. The test of time is what he's got to survive. There're been lots of goalies that have come into the league and some even won the rookie of the year and then you don't keep it going."
Very true, but for now, Howard ranks among the NHL's goaltending leaders -- not rookie leaders -- and his play has helped carry the Red Wings to familiar territory.
"I think he's just been getting better and better, especially once he settled down and started feeling comfortable in net, he's been outstanding for us," Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom
Aside from Howard, getting Johan Franzen
back among the forwards, working primarily with Pavel Datsyuk
, has been huge, and a healthy Andreas Lilja
has cemented the top six on defense.
"I think we're really starting to show how we want to be playing the game, like we have in the past few years here," Niklas Kronwall
told the Detroit Free Press. "We're playing more quickly on defense -- anytime anyone gets into our zone, we've been doing a better job of getting to the puck and making that first tape-to-tape pass a lot quicker. So instead of spending 30-40 seconds in your own zone, now we're on offense instead much quicker. Howie has been playing great for us -- some nights when we haven't been playing our best, he still has given us a chance."DID YOU KNOW?
Detroit defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom
reached the 1,400-game plateau when he took the ice at Edmonton last Friday. Lidstrom, who has played his entire career in Detroit since entering the NHL in 1991, is the seventh player in League history to play at least 1,400 games for one team -- but he's the fourth Red Wing. According to NHL.com numbers guru John Kreiser, Gordie Howe
(1,687), Steve Yzerman
(1,514) and Alex Delvecchio
(1,509) are the other Red Wings. Ray Bourque
(1,518) and Johnny Bucyk (1,436) with Boston and Mike Modano
(1,454) with the Stars in Minnesota and Dallas are the other NHLers with those long tenures.
Lidstrom is the fourth to play 1,400 or more games and spend his whole career with one team -- but the third Wing to do so, joining Delvecchio and Yzerman. Modano -- ironically, a Michigan native -- is the only other player with 1,400 games with one franchise, though he's done it in two cities.POINTS TO PONDER:
After a shootout victory against Nashville, Mike Babcock asked reporters a question: "Who's the best team in the West?"
Babcock then answered and made his point.
"I think Chicago's probably the best team in the West, but San Jose might be," Babcock said. "I guess that's what I'm trying to say is, I don't know if you interview 10 people if they'd all give you the same three. That's how tight the League is now and obviously with our experience, if we can get into the tournament, we feel we have a chance."