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Red Wings Flying High

With a Roster of All-Stars, Detroit Is Cup Favorite, Hands Down

April 04, 2002|LONNIE WHITE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It must be nice being the Detroit Red Wings and Coach Scotty Bowman.

In a season where parity has been a way of life in the NHL, Bowman's crew of Red Wing All-Stars has sailed through the league as if it was playing pick-up teams every night.

Detroit, which last month clinched home ice throughout the playoffs, has been on cruise control since the All-Star break, and the Red Wings' 114 points are 18 more than Boston, the second-best team in the league.

"They have lots of talent with hard-core leadership," said King Coach Andy Murray, whose team will face the Red Wings tonight at Staples Center.

"Everybody always talks about all of the horses Scotty has to work with," Murray added, "but he's done an amazing job of keeping everyone happy and focused on the team goal."

And that hasn't gone unnoticed with Bowman's players.

"You go on any team in any sport that has this many stars and that would be really hard to handle," said Red Wing forward Luc Robitaille. "But he's made it click. The thing about Scotty is that he really doesn't talk much. There are times when he doesn't come on the ice for practices for a week or two. Then the next thing you know, he says something and it's like 'Wow,' everyone is listening. He really knows how to use guys. He's found a way to make us all play together."

This isn't the first time Bowman has coached a team that has dominated a regular season from start to finish. His 1976-77 Montreal Canadiens lost only eight times and went on to win the Stanley Cup.

Arguably the best coach in NHL history, Bowman is working toward an unprecedented ninth Stanley Cup, which would move him ahead of famed Montreal coach Toe Blake.

Bowman's secret has been his ability to get his players to play in his system. Working with associate coaches Dave Lewis and Barry Smith, Bowman loves to switch things up. From game to game, period to period and sometimes, shift to shift, Bowman isn't afraid to move his players around.

"It doesn't matter who scores, who gets points and who does what," Robitaille said. "It's all about who wins and that's why it's working out this way. Having everyone switched around and playing with different guys, is going to be a good thing once we get into the playoffs. We're going to be a tough team to check.... We can score on every line, and that makes us very dangerous."

Detroit has been so dominant, the NHL has been forced to keep an eye on Bowman's lineups just to make sure he's following the league rule that requires coaches to put their best squad on the ice.

"We're monitoring the Red Wings' lineup selection," Frank Brown, the league's vice president of media relations, told the Chicago Tribune. "Managing your lineup to maximize your competitiveness long term is a long-standing practice.... If they pull their top power-play unit five games in a row, that's something different."

But when you're as deep as the Red Wings, how can you really tell that they're not following league guidelines when they keep winning?

In their game against the Mighty Ducks on Wednesday night at the Arrowhead Pond, the Red Wings were without All-Stars Steve Yzerman, Nicklas Lidstrom and Igor Larionov, but Detroit still has plenty in reserve. In fact, Lidstrom, last season's Norris Trophy winner as the league's top defenseman, is not even with the team for the current three-game West Coast trip just so he can rest a nagging groin injury.

"We're not giving players a rest as much as we're trying to monitor [nagging] injuries," said Bowman, who had six players participate in the league's All-Star weekend and 12 compete in the Olympics. It also doesn't help that Detroit is the only Eastern time zone team playing in the Western Conference.

"Many of the guys on our team have had to go right through without any breaks. Just nonstop."

After the Red Wings were upset by the Kings in the first round of the playoffs last season, General Manager Ken Holland decided to do some tinkering over the summer. To say his moves have worked out so far would be a major understatement.

By adding goal scorers Brett Hull and Robitaille to the mix along with six-time Vezina Trophy winner Dominik Hasek in goal, the Red Wings instantly became a favorite to win the Stanley Cup this season. After all, Detroit already had likely hall of famers Chris Chelios, Brendan Shanahan, Sergei Fedorov, Igor Larionov, Lidstrom and Yzerman.

"Guys are here for one reason, and that is to win the Cup," said Chelios, who at 40 is having a Norris Trophy type of season. "There is always pressure. Since I've been in Detroit I've felt the pressure to win because of management's statement of signing good players. By signing guys like Luc, Brett Hull and Dominik Hasek, we feel obligated to win and our play during the regular season shows that."

Based on Detroit's 51-14-9-3 record, it would be easy to assume that opposing teams haven't been giving the Red Wings much of a fight. It's been just the opposite.

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