Red Wings in league of their own

TERRY KOSHAN, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

Ken Holland figured he had a fairly sound hockey club on his hands when training camp ended last fall.

But this good? No.

"We're a little surprised," the Detroit Red Wings general manager said in a telephone interview. "I don't think anybody envisioned that we would be where are just past the halfway point."

As much of the rest of the National Hockey League skims along in a big bunch, the Wings have forgotten about the idea that parity was supposed to be the way to go in the post-lockout NHL. The Wings head into Ottawa tonight with 70 points to face the Senators.

With 33 victories in 45 games, the Wings have put themselves in a position to challenge their NHL record of 62 wins in one season, set in 1995-96. Back then, the club was coached by Scotty Bowman and was led by Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov and Paul Coffey.

Holland sees many similarities between the teams -- the goaltending is excellent, the defensive play is strong and puck movement is as fluid as it was then. Instead of Yzerman and Fedorov, though, it's Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk who have been the spokes in the winged offensive wheel.

"The biggest thing for us has been Zetterberg and Datsyuk," Holland said. "These guys were later picks (Datsyuk 171st in 1998 and Zetterberg 210th in 1999) and we have let them come at their own pace. Now they are among the top 10 forwards in the league."

Three Wings -- defenceman Nicklas Lidstrom and forwards Kris Draper and Kirk Maltby -- remain from the 1995-96 team. Goalie Chris Osgood led the NHL with 39 wins that season in Detroit, but played for two other teams before returning.

"I think last year was a huge stepping stone for us," Draper told Sun Media. "We were two games from going to the Stanley Cup final (when they were eliminated by the Anaheim Ducks). For the younger guys it was a learning experience. It was similar in '96, because we lost in the conference final. Then we came back and won the Cup the next two years."

But not unlike the New England Patriots in the NFL, whose perfect regular season will amount to little if they don't win the Super Bowl, both Holland and Draper said anything less than a Stanley Cup would be a disappointment.

"Absolutely, until we go all the way and win, this doesn't really mean anything," Draper said. "We feel we have a confident group, but we are not cocky either. We just feel that night in, night out, we can do some really good things."

ICE CHIPS

A goaltending controversy is popping up in Philadelphia, where Antero Niittymaki is slated today to make his fourth consecutive start. Martin Biron is not happy ... St. Louis Blues goalie Manny Legace has become a big fan of Roberto Luongo of the Vancouver Canucks. Luongo dropped out of the all-star game this month in Atlanta, and Legace will go in his place. "I'm very fired up," Legace said. "I've got to thank Luongo for letting me in."


Videos

Photos