Mike Babcock, Dan Bylsma Lead Red Wings, Penguins To Prominence Despite Injuries

PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 31: Head coach Dan Bylsma of the Pittsburgh Penguins looks on during practice for the 2011 NHL Winter Classic between the Penguins and the Washington Capitals on December 31 2010 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

Mike Babcock and Dan Bylsma have led their teams to prominent positions in the NHL standings despite having to overcome more than their fair share of injuries this season.

If you're a front-line player for the Detroit Red Wings, there's a pretty good chance you've been injured at some point this season.

The following players have participated in all 76 Detroit games this season: Henrik Zetterberg and Niklas Kronwall. Many of those who have missed games have been out because of injuries. Pavel Datsyuk's been hurt, as has Nicklas Lidstrom. Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi have also missed time up front, as has Jimmy Howard in goal. The Wings' total is over 200 man games lost.

Fans of teams like Columbus and Minnesota might not feel bad for Detroit, but the fact that the Red Wings are in good position for the fourth seed in the Western Conference is largely a credit to the work done by general manager Ken Holland and head coach Mike Babcock.

It's hard to imagine people not appreciating Babcock already for the work he's done as an NHL and Olympic coach, but the fact Detroit is still a factor in the home ice race is not lost here.

A huge factor in Detroit's success this season has been its ability to score goals, no matter who is in the lineup. As of the start of Tuesday's games, the Wings were plus-50 in goal differential this season, tops in the West and third in the NHL (behind Pittsburgh and Boston).

Dan Bylsma's been great in Pittsburgh, in particular the last two years. The Penguins got a home ice spot last year despite not having Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin around for a chunk of the season. Detroit's injury woes aren't as pronounced this year, but watching this team keep chugging along with front-line players missing time is still pretty impressive.

Bylsma gets a lot of well-deserved credit, but Babcock sure is impressive, too.

The best news for both? It seems their teams are getting healthy at the best possible time. Datsyuk is back for Detroit, as is Lidstrom. Franzen should be ready to go soon, too, along with Howard.

Pittsburgh, meanwhile, has gotten Crosby back, and he looks good as the playoffs approach. Outside of Kris Letang's latest injury issue, the Penguins are pretty healthy right now. It's been a factor as Pittsburgh tries to chase down the Rangers in the Atlantic Division.

It's an even bigger factor in the playoffs. A short-handed Pittsburgh team just seemed to run out of gas against Tampa Bay a year ago. This team should be charged up and ready for the playoff grind. Detroit was knocked out in the conference semifinals by San Jose in back-to-back years, and the Red Wings hope that they'll have their full NHL roster depth ready to go for the playoffs this time. Perhaps some unwanted in-season rest will turn out beneficial for guys.

It seems like a broken record to praise coaches like Bylsma and Babcock. If you were going to make a list of the top coaches in the league back in October, both would have been on it. Neither is likely a serious candidate for the Jack Adams Award, thanks to the seasons enjoyed so far by John Tortorella (Rangers), Ken Hitchcock (St. Louis), and even Kevin Dineen (Florida).

That doesn't mean they don't deserve a lot of credit. Around the league, teams are folding or have folded, largely because of injuries that robbed them of their NHL-level depth. While you tend to feel sorry for teams racked by injuries, it's hard to do that when you look at the impressive work done by coaches like Babcock and Bylsma, who kept their teams playing well while star players sat, and now are reaping the benefits of that hard work.

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