On Monday, Detroit Red Wings GM Ken Holland and his team's captain, Nicklas Lidstrom, spoke with Bleacher Report a day after clinching their ninth Central Division title in 10 years just 24 hours after securing their 20th straight playoff appearance, the active record among all North American sports teams.
The Red Wings already have much to be proud of this season, but, as any fan knows, the regular season just doesn't mean much in Hockeytown. It's all about the playoffs in Detroit, and more specifically, emerging as the last team standing.
Still, Ken Holland reflected that even at the start of the year, getting to the point the Red Wings are at now wasn't anything he took for granted.
"Obviously we felt that we were going to have a tremendous race in the conference and in the division with Chicago winning the Stanley Cup," Holland said. "We knew they had lost some people, but certainly the core of their team is there, [they're a] tremendous team. Nashville is always good. And Columbus and St. Louis looked like they were primed to take another step. So we talked about the importance of getting off to a great start, banking points away and I thought that we did that."
The Red Wings did indeed start the season in tremendous fashion, however, they slowly started to slow down as injuries once again became a factor.
"We came out of the gate 17-4-3 in our first 24 games and then right around Christmastime we started to get hit with some key injuries for about five, six weeks up until the All Star Break," Holland explained.
Since that time, the Red Wings have struggled to maintain consistency, following up three or four game winning streaks with three or four game losing streaks.
Holland feels that his team is still evolving, but additions of younger players have certainly helped the team's depth and should continue to contribute in the playoffs.
"Our team has evolved, some of our younger players, [Jakub] Kindl, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader have really improved. I think our team is deeper today than when the season started," Holland said.
At the other end of the age spectrum in Detroit, there is Nicklas Lidstrom.
Lidstrom has never missed the playoffs in his 19 years in the NHL, all with Detroit.
At 40 years old, he is still considered one of the best defensemen in the game today. His 62 points, second best in the NHL, prove he is exactly that.
Regarding the younger players Ken Holland mentioned, Lidstrom said he makes sure to give them additional advice come playoff time.
"You try to help [all] the guys, especially the younger guys when the playoffs come around," Lidstrom said. "You know you're going to need the depth. You never know what can happen in the playoffs with injuries or whatnot. So you have to be prepared."
Lidstrom said that being prepared for the challenges of the NHL playoffs, be it injuries, the physical toll players take or the mental focus needed to succeed is a team-wide commitment.
"You've got to be [prepared], you know, working out after practices, just being ready, just in case so you can jump right in [in the event of an injury or roster change]. That's something we try to talk about as a team," Lidstrom said. "But me, as well, too!"
Speaking of younger Red Wings' players, regarding his second-year goalie, Jimmy Howard, being ready to back-stop his team during the playoffs, Lidstrom expressed confidence in his ability to do so.
"I think he gained a lot of experience being part of the playoffs last year," said Lidstrom, "knowing what it takes and that it is different than the regular season and the pressure is there and you have to show up every night. It's a lot tougher than the regular season."
As green as Howard might still be when it comes to playoff experience, Lidstrom said that Howard has benefited, not just from his experience last year, but, from being around the team in previous years.
"I think he learned [what it takes to succeed in the playoffs] from last season," said Lidstrom, "but he's [also] been around the team when he wasn't playing. When we won the Cup in '08, he was on the outside looking in."
Though Howard never suited up for the Red Wings during their 2008 Cup-run, Lidstrom feels he gained a great deal of knowledge nonetheless.
"He was part of the team travelling with us. He knows what it takes to win, and he's seen it, and we still try to encourage him, whether it's a goal he didn't like he let in or a game you didn't like, you always try to encourage the goalies."
As the Red Wings have now guaranteed a home-ice start to the post-season, the issue regarding their sub-par home record may loom a bit larger.
Ken Holland said, "Obviously we would rather play at home than on the road. Our record doesn't indicate that. But I think if you have your choice you would rather play at home in front of your own fans and your own rink with your own locker room than you would on the road."
Despite the comfort any team would have playing at home, their under-.500 home record since the All-Star Break would suggest it isn't enough to play a factor in winning.
Still, Holland feels the team is moving in the right direction of late and could end the year on an upswing.
"Yesterday we won at home over Minnesota. We got one more game at home Friday night against Chicago, and hopefully we can take care of business Friday night and start to feel good about ourselves at home heading into the playoffs," Holland said.
When asked what the team is looking to do to improve their home performance heading into the playoffs, Holland said he felt his team's veteran experience is going to help in that regard.
"I think the one thing I would say to you [regarding improving the home record in the playoffs], is we have got a veteran team. The core of this team was around in '08 when we won the Cup. They were around when we went to the finals in '09 and lost in Game 7. They were on our team last year when we went 16-3-2 down the stretch when we needed to put a run together to play our way into the playoffs and they also were on the team when we got out of the gate this year 17-4-3. So it's a veteran team and they have seen it all. There's no surprises. I think that's one of the reasons why you like to have veterans around. They don't get too high and too low. When playoffs start next week, in my mind, throw the regular season statistics out. It's a fresh series against a new opponent. Everything starts from fresh and I think that our team and our veteran players understand that."
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