One thing to remember as the NHL heads into the home stretch and the jockeying for playoff positioning heats up: Stanley Cups are not won or lost in February.
Also, being the best team in the league with six weeks to go in the regular season is not necessarily a good thing, because it suggests you've peaked too soon and when the inevitable lull comes, it'll happen at exactly the worst time - early in the playoffs.
It is something to think about as both of the Western Conference leaders - the Vancouver Canucks and the Detroit Red Wings - stumbled a little this week. Vancouver and Detroit were the only two teams that managed any separation at all in the West, (or until the San Jose Sharks rattled off a nice eight-game win streak to position themselves solidly in third spot), which also makes them the only teams with a margin for error with the playoffs on the horizon.
The Canucks are moseying along at .500 for about the past three weeks after losing 3-0 to the Nashville Predators last night.
As for Detroit, after eviscerating the Los Angeles Kings at the start of their California swing, they dropped a 2-1 overtime decision to Anaheim and then fell 3-1 to the surging Sharks last night.
Detroit, of course, understands how these things work better than most, based on the fact that except for last year, when they needed a post-Olympic surge to make the playoffs after an injury-filled year, they generally have a playoff berth well in hand before mid-April.
It was an issue that long-serving NHLer, (but brand-new Red Wing) Mike Modano addressed this past week. Modano is from Livonia, Mich. and playing out the final days of his NHL career with the de facto hometown Red Wings after two decades in the Minnesota-Dallas Stars' organization. Dallas was a powerhouse for many of the years Modano was there, so he's seen both sides of the equation - the need to scuttle for every point down the stretch, and the ability to make long-range playoff plans, if a post-season spot is more secure.
Given the choice, Modano says he'll opt for the latter scenario every time.
"I've been on both sides," said Modano, "and I've really enjoyed the part where you can afford a little bit of a hiccup down the stretch and still be okay. Granted, you always want to be at your best, and at a top level, but with these guys here, it seems like every night there are teams who are challenged by the ability to play the Wings, and the competition, and grading themselves of where they stand always against Detroit.
"This team's always been geared towards playoff runs and deep playoff runs, so I think they've always had the ability to kick it up a notch when they have to."
MORE FROM MO: Modano signed with the Red Wings to act as their de facto No. 3 centre but missed a big part of the year because of a wrist injury that was thought to be career threatening. Every serious injury is career threatening if you're 40 years of age and taking it year by year, but Modano returned and is slowly working himself back into playing shape, something he says is taking a little more time than he'd like.
"There are moments when you feel pretty good and there are some that remind you you've been off for 13 weeks," said Modano, who earned an assist on Tomas Holmstrom's power-play goal Thursday night, for his 10th point in 23 games. Modano's goal is to round into shape in time for post-season play, where the Red Wings project him as their third-line centre, who can play some on the second power-play unit.
"It's a day-to-day thing," continued Modano. "You just try to do what you can productively to get caught up to these guys, because they're moving pretty good and every game is magnified these days with the way the playoff races are. You just go in, trying not to do too much and being in a good position - get the puck, move it a little, and do some positive things with it as far as putting it in a good area. And obviously, short shifts in the meantime."
THE RYAN GETZLAF WATCH: The Anaheim Ducks' Ryan Getzlaf is another player trying to round himself into shape after a long injury absence. In Getzlaf's case, he broke his nose when a deflected puck skipped up into his face, causing multiple sinus cavity fractures. Getzlaf missed 15 games and then, after returning Feb. 9 versus Vancouver, managed a dozen points in his first 10 games back.
"It was a tough process because it was long and it was one of those things, where it wasn't an injury I could play through," said Getzlaf, in an interview. "I had to wait for the bones to heal and it was tough to sit back at that point.