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— Those who wondered whether Tomas Tatar could take the next step in his career have their answer.

The forward leads the Red Wings with 24 goals and is third with 42 points.

"He's a passionate kid who loves hockey," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "It doesn't matter who mentors you, if you don't love the game and compete real hard and work hard every day, you're not going to get better."

Tatar was a restricted free agent last summer. The Red Wings re-signed him to a three-year, $8.25 million contract.

"Tats has the skill set and has the drive to be real good," Babcock said. "And he's ultra-competitive. That adds up to getting better each and every day and you're here (in the NHL) and you're serious about your craft."

Some have suggested Babcock has been a sort of mentor for Tatar, but the coach believes it's a different relationship.

"I love all the guys and try to make them better people and better players," Babcock said. "I try to treat them with respect as much as I can. But respect for me is different than some people. Respect for me, it's maximizing their potential and pushing them to be better."

Ice chips

Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard saw an advantage to facing the Blackhawks in a shootout Wednesday.

"I hate to say it, it's not easy, but it's easier because I've seen them so much, playing in the West for so many years," Howard said. "I'm still learning a lot of guys in the East. Knowing the majority of their (Blackhawks) moves helps."

Howard won a shootout for the first time this season (1-7).

... While the Red Wings have winless streaks of at least two games four times this season, they haven't lost two straight games during regulation.

During a six-game winless streak in mid-December, for example, four losses occurred in overtime or a shootout.

"I never thought much about it," Babcock said. "It's the game we're playing that matters. We try to stay in the present."

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

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