How good is Detroit? Consider that coach Mike Babcock, who once took the Ducks to the Stanley Cup final, said the Red Wings are the best team he has ever coached. ¶ "Not even close," he told the Detroit News. Babcock acknowledged the 2005-06 team had more points, with 124, but said this season's squad has "more depth and is faster and harder (to play against). It's the best team I ever coached."
"It's impressive," he added. "Everyone talks about it every year, but they've built a program here with good players. I'm just fortunate enough to be the coach. I'm proud to be the coach."
Babcock is the first NHL coach to win 50 games in his first three years with a club. And Detroit is the first team to earn 50 victories in three straight seasons since the Canadiens did it four straight from 1975-79.
The conventional wisdom after the lockout was the free-spending Red Wings would slip because of the salary cap.
"But the organization has found a way to find players and still be competitive out there," defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom said. "We're still able to win games. That says a lot about the players and the coaching staff here."
We all like a little showbiz with our hockey. So it was fun to watch Predators buzz saw Jordin Tootoo play to the crowd after an eventful night against the Blue Jackets in which he hammered defenseman Rostislav Klesla with a big hit and then won two fights.
Tootoo raised his hands to the crowd as he headed to the penalty box and then to the bench. But Nashville coach Barry Trotz did not approve.
"I'm not a big proponent of (raising your arms to the crowd)," Trotz told the Nashville Tennessean. "I'm more of a, 'Hey, you did your job.'
"Two guys challenged him, and he took care of the business he needed to take care of. He responded, and I think that's probably where it should stop."
Added Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock: "I just don't like the clown shows."
But Tootoo had a different take.
"Excitement is part of the game," he said, "and emotions run high. The fans enjoy it, and that's what the game is all about, bringing excitement to new fans and bringing new fans in."
Those are the rules
The Oilers' Marty Reasoner scored a goal without scoring a goal March 22 against the Avs, getting credit for an empty-netter after shooting wide while being hooked by Paul Stastny.
"It would have been a penalty shot," Bob Hall, an NHL supervisor, told the Edmonton Journal. "But there's no goalie, so it's a goal."
That is where Panthers captain Olli Jokinen, above, and coach/general manager Jacques Martin seem headed.
Not hard to predict, actually, as Martin recently answered a question about Jokinen by pointing out the center had not scored an even-strength goal in 19 games, an odd stat to have at one's fingertips.
"And he's a minus," Martin told South Florida reporters. "He has to be better. He knows that. If you want to win, you have to have your best players be their best."
Odds and ends
The Panthers missed the playoffs for the seventh straight season, tied for the league's longest streak with the Blue Jackets. & With Niklas Backstrom 1-6 while stopping just 9 of 21 shots, the Wild coaches are considering pulling him from future shootouts. & Columbus' Ken Hitchcock will miss the playoffs for the first time when spending a full season behind one team's bench.