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Red Wings head into break on top

Tuesday, 02.14.2006 / 12:00 AM / News
Associated Press
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Red Wings head into break on top
DETROIT  - They were expected to struggle, their goaltending has been questioned and two of the players they expected to be among their top four defencemen have missed a combined 89 games. So how have the Detroit Red Wings managed to have an NHL-best 83 points at the Olympic break?

The Red Wings are 39-13-5 because those who were expected to perform have, those who were thought to be past their prime have shown they aren't, and others have made the most of their opportunities. And they all have bought into first-year coach Mike Babcock's no-nonsense energetic style.

Many thought Detroit would take a fall because of the league's new salary cap. That put the pressure on youngsters like Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg to take the next step and become the team's offensive leaders.

Datsyuk, 27, leads the team in points with 66 (21 goals and 45 assists), and Zetterberg, 25, is second with 61 and is tied for the team lead in goals with 26.

Zetterberg shares the lead in goals with 37-year-old Brendan Shanahan, whose days as an elite goal scorer were thought to be over.

Chris Chelios originally was slated to be in the third defence pair, but Niklas Kronwall's pre-season knee injury and Jiri Fischer's heart ailment forced the 44-year-old into the top-four defence rotation, and he has responded like a man 15 years younger.

Also on defence, Nicklas Lidstrom, 35, has returned to his three-time Norris Trophy winning form, and another veteran, Mathieu Schneider, 36, has 19 goals and is on pace to shatter his career-best mark of 20.

Detroit's biggest surprise has been right wing Mikael Samuelsson. A late pre-season signee who had previously only scored 19 goals in 188 games with four NHL teams, Samuelsson has had 20 goals and leads the Red Wings with a plus-22.

And while Manny Legace hasn't proved he can carry a team through the playoffs yet, his numbers in the regular season look good. His 1.99 goals-against average is the league's lowest, and he has a 25-6-2 record with a .920 save percentage and five shutouts.

The Red Wings have 25 games left in the regular season. Their first game after the Olympic break is Feb. 28 on the road against the San Jose Sharks.

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