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NHL.com: Central Division Notes

Saturday, 11.29.2008 / 12:57 PM / Features
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NHL.com: Central Division Notes
The Detroit Red Wings\' power play is clicking at over 30 percent this season, no wonder with the talent available. Dan Rosen looks at the Wings PP and has all the news from the Central.
When Marian Hossa stunned the hockey world by signing a one-year contract with the Detroit Red Wings, captain Nicklas Lidstrom wasn't alone in thinking the team's power play would undoubtedly improve with No. 81 joining the mix.

Lidstrom had no idea it could be this good.

Through their first 21 games, the Red Wings scored 28 power-play goals and were clicking 31.8 percent of the time. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, no team since the 1978-79 New York Islanders (31.2 percent) has finished the season better than 30 percent on the power play.

The Red Wings were on pace to score roughly 109 power-play goals this season. The Pittsburgh Penguins hold the NHL season record with 119, but they set it in 1988-89 when the schedule called for only 80 games.

"After we signed Hossa and with the players we have up front, you could see the competition of being on the power play," Lidstrom told NHL.com. "We have two groups and you can't say one is No. 1 and one is No. 2. We create competition between the two. You have to play well just to be out there and that adds to being sharper on the power play."

Looking out for No. 1



For the first time in his short NHL career, Dan Ellis is a No. 1 goalie. Nashville's top netminder said the difference between being a part-timer like he was last year and a full-timer is all mental.

"Physically you train all summer to handle it, but to handle the mental load of playing night in and night out and bringing your best game all the time has been the biggest thing to get used to," Ellis told NHL.com. "As a backup you have all that time to rest in between and give it your all that one game because you know you're going to be back on the bench. As a starter it's not that you conserve your energy during the game, but it's a different mindset when you know you're playing the very next game, or two in three nights or three in four nights."

The result, Ellis said, is No. 1 goalies forget about the bad games faster. They don't have a choice and that's something Ellis is getting used to this season.

Mirroring his team, Ellis has run hot and cold this season.

He was brilliant Tuesday in shutting out the Blues for 65 minutes, but his team couldn't score either and Ellis then allowed two goals in the shootout. He has allowed five goals twice and four goals on five separate occasions, but also held the opposition to two or fewer goals in five of his 17 starts prior to Friday's game at Atlanta.

"You're going to have tough games as a starter and a backup, but as a starter you get the opportunity to change things a little quicker than you do as a backup," Ellis said.

Nashville's hockey operations staff officially threw itself behind Ellis the night before the Entry Draft in Ottawa when they reached a two-year agreement with the Ontario native and then dealt Chris Mason to St. Louis for a fourth-round pick.

Ellis, who was slated to become an unrestricted free agent, said contract negotiations were ongoing, but he was willing to wait until July 1 to test the market because of the logjam in Nashville's net created by Mason and Pekka Rinne, who were both signed to one-way contracts.

"We were trying to find out if there would be a fit and we could work out a deal," Ellis said. "You don't want to get into a situation where they control everything. We wanted to wait and see until something opened up via trade or free agency."

Nashville had every reason to put its faith in Ellis. He carried the Predators into the playoffs last season with a remarkable finish, including three straight games in which he didn't allow a regulation goal. His team-record shutout streak of 233:39, the longest in the NHL last season, ended in a 1-0 overtime loss to Detroit on March 30.

"I don't know if my play dictated things or not," Ellis said. "You just hope to make an impression and I guess I made an impression with them. They rewarded me by giving me a chance to play in the NHL, and they rewarded me again."

- Dan Rosen, NHL.com Staff Writer

Until Tomas Holmstrom's back injury, the so-called "first unit" was made up of Hossa, Pavel Datsyuk and Holmstrom up front with Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski on the points. Without Holmstrom, who is out at least two more weeks, Tomas Kopecky has joined the mix and has played well.

"The second unit" - if you can call it that - stayed intact. It includes Johan Franzen, Henrik Zetterberg and Jiri Hudler playing up front with Mikael Samuelson and Niklas Kronwall on the points.

All 11 players we just mentioned have at least one power-play goal. Holmstrom and Zetterberg each had five before Friday's game against Columbus.

"We had some great power plays in the '90s with Sergei (Fedorov), (Brendan) Shanahan, (Stevie) Yzerman and Brett Hull," Lidstrom said. "We had some solid offensive weapons, but this ranks right up there with the guys we had in the past."

Impressing the audience
- Until Nashville defenseman Shea Weber scored two goals this past Sunday in Carolina, no blueliner had reached double-digits in goals so fast since 1987-88, when Phil Housley scored 10 in 15 games and Al Iafrate notched his 10th in his 19th game. Weber had 10 goals and 11 assists through 21 games.

Weber's fantastic start, and that of his defensive partner, Ryan Suter, who had 13 points heading into the weekend, has been something to marvel at, at least according to Predators goalie Dan Ellis.

"They are really starting to gel together and are having breakout seasons," Ellis told NHL.com. "Weber is outstanding. He's our go-to guy, a great leader and great person as well. When you see someone like that have success, that only breeds more and more confidence within the group. They are just starting to gain their confidence this year and confidence is a huge thing in pro sports. They are playing great defensively and really chipping in offensively to help me in that category."

Backup plan
- We knew there was a good reason the Chicago Blackhawks never traded Nikolai Khabibulin, despite signing Cristobal Huet this summer.

Fear of injury, of course?

Well, the fear came true Wednesday night in San Jose when Khabibulin left the game late in the second period with a lower-body injury after sprawling to make a save. The Hawks recalled Corey Crawford from Rockford of the American Hockey League.

To bring up Crawford, Chicago placed defenseman Aaron Johnson, who has a team-best plus-13 rating, on injured reserve. Johnson was also injured during the 3-2 overtime loss to the Sharks.

The Hawks have listed Khabibulin as day-to-day and GM Dale Tallon told reporters, "Nothing serious." Per NHL rules, the exactness of Khabibulin's injury does not have to be revealed. He is 7-1-4 with a 2.46 GAA and .923 save percentage.

Crawford was 6-3 with a 2.75 GAA and .914 save percentage for the IceHogs. He was 1-2 with a 2.14 GAA and .929 save percentage in five appearances with the Blackhawks last season.

Had Huet not been available on the open market this summer, Crawford would have likely been Khabibulin's backup this season.

Jackets jelling
- Entering Friday's game at Detroit, the Blue Jackets were 3-0-2 in their last five road games. That tied a franchise record for consecutive road games with at least one point. After Wednesday's loss to Phoenix, the Jackets were 5-3-3 in November.

They still have a long way to go, but there are positive vibes coming out of Ohio, especially with the emergence of rookies Steve Mason, Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek. Rick Nash has also been hot of late.

"We're starting to get to where we want to be, but we're not quite there yet," Jackets center Manny Malhotra told NHL.com prior to the 3-2 loss to the Coyotes. "At the quarter mark in the season we feel we have come along and we've shown signs of playing some great hockey, but we have also taken some nights off. If we can maintain that high intensity level that we've shown and caliber of hockey we know we can play on a more consistent basis we're going to make far greater progress over the next quarter."

Rookie report
- The Central Division is still a hotbed for rookies. Entering Friday's action, three of the top four rookie scorers are from the division.

Chicago's Kris Versteeg still leads all rookies at the quarter mark with 20 points on 7 goals and 13 assists. His 13 assists and plus-12 rating also top the rookie charts. Columbus' Derick Brassard is one step behind with 19 points on 8 goals and 11 assists. Brassard's teammate, Jakub Voracek, has 3 goals and 8 assists for 11 points.

Blues center Patrik Berglund remains out with a groin strain. His return is still up in the air. Berglund is likely to miss his fifth-straight game tonight since hitting a rut and crashing into the boards during a practice last week.

Perhaps going unnoticed, or flying a little under the radar, has been the impressive play of Chicago forward Troy Brouwer, who has 2 goals and 7 assists with a plus-7 rating in 14 games since being called up from Rockford on Oct. 21. Brouwer also had 2 goals and 6 assists in five games with the IceHogs of the American Hockey League.

This and that
- Upon being dealt to St. Louis from Toronto, Alex Steen had played in 36 games against Western Conference teams and produced only 10 points on 5 goals and 5 assists. He played twice against the Blues and had a goal. … Columbus plays Washington on Saturday. The Jackets haven't beaten the Caps since Oct. 27, 2000, an 0-4-3 stretch. … How about this little nugget, brought to our attention by Jeremy Rutherford at the St. Louis Post Dispatch: Keith Tkachuk has now played with both Alex Steen and his dad, Thomas, who was Tkachuk's teammate with the Winnipeg Jets for four seasons from 1991-95. Thomas Steen played 14 seasons in Winnipeg before going to Germany.

He said it - "We always have Red Wing fans come to Chicago to watch us play. It used to be hard to get ticket here in Detroit so you saw a lot of fans from Detroit coming to watch the games in Chicago because it's not that far. Now the intensity is higher than maybe even last year. You can feel that excitement in the building. The fans are intense. You see (Detroit fans) in warm-ups still, but you don't hear them as much. It's fun to play in that arena."

-- Detroit captain Nicklas Lidstrom talking about the excitement building in Chicago and especially the United Center

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Staff Writer
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