Jacques Demers, in just a little more than 18 months as coach of the Detroit Red Wings, has transformed them from the worst team in the National Hockey League to one of the best.
Demers moved over from St. Louis to take charge of the Red Wings after the 1985-86 season in which they won only 17 of 80 games and earned only 40 points.
In his first season, Demers doubled the victory output, had the team with the biggest rate of improvement and made the playoffs.
For the second season in a row, the Red Wings have a chance to take most improved honors. They are runaway leaders of the Norris Division. If they keep playing the way they have been for the last month or so, someone might even call them a Stanley Cup challenger.
Shawn Burr scored twice Saturday at Detroit, goalie Glen Hanlon celebrated his 31st birthday by stopping 23 shots and the Red Wings trounced the Chicago Blackhawks, 6-1. It was their third victory in a row and gave them a 16-4-4 record in their last 24 games.
"It just seems like a dream is going on," Demers said. "It just gets scary. A year and a half ago, this club was the worst in the NHL. Today we're six points away from being the best in the league.
"We've lost only four of our last 24 games. Only great teams do that. Maybe we have to consider ourselves a great team."
Troy Murray put only a slight damper on Hanlon's celebration when he ruined his shutout by scoring with just 6:12 left in the game.
"Shutouts are nice, but you sort of get what you deserve," Hanlon said. "By the sound of it, everybody says the shot by Denis Savard (disallowed) earlier was in the net. I guess I got what I deserved."
Washington 3, Minnesota 0--The Capitals' No. 1 goaltender may have to pay a penalty for getting the flu.
When Pete Peeters couldn't play Friday night at Winnipeg, Canada, Clint Malarchuk, the Capitals' talented backup, took over.
All the veteran Malarchuk has done is turn in successive shutouts at Winnipeg and Bloomington, Minn. Friday night, he stopped 29 shots in a 3-0 win, and in this game he stopped 33.
It was the sixth win in a row for the Capitals, who gave Malarchuk all the support he needed when Mike Gartner scored 39 seconds after the opening faceoff.
The winning streak has moved the Capitals within one point of first place in the sizzling race in the Patrick Division.
Calgary 6, St. Louis 3--The Flames, hungry for a road victory, jumped off in front at St. Louis and breezed to their third victory in eight games on their longest, toughest trip of the season.
The Flames, who will not return to the Saddledome until after the Winter Olympics, had lost three in a row. The victory enabled them to increase their lead in the Smythe Division to two points.
Rookie Joe Nieuwendyk scored his 43rd goal for Calgary.
New York Islanders 3, Hartford 0--The Islanders have tightened their defense and are making a determined bid for a playoff spot in the Patrick Division.
Alan Kerr scored two second-period goals, and goaltender Kelly Hrudey stopped 29 shots as the Islanders extended their unbeaten string to four games. The win put the Islanders just three points behind Philadelphia, the division leader.
Pat LaFontaine scored the other New York goal in the closing minutes. It was his 37th.
Montreal 5, Quebec 3--Stephane Richer scored twice at Montreal to lead the Canadiens to the victory over slumping Quebec that put them back on top in the Adams Division.
The Nordiques, only 1-5-1 in their last seven games, scored first, but Richer, with his 33rd goal tied the game, and one minute later Bob Gainey put the Canadiens ahead to stay.
Five seconds after the opening faceoff, the two enforcers, John Kordic of Montreal and Gord Donnelly of the Nordiques, engaged in the night's first fight.