DETROIT – On Sunday, the Red Wings finished the first quarter of the compressed 48-game season on a high note, defeating the Los Angeles Kings, 3-2, to win their third straight game in regulation for the first time since last February. This week, the Wings drop the puck on the season’s second quarter when they conclude a modest four-game home stand, hosting St. Louis and Anaheim before hitting the road for two games.
Wednesday’s game is the fourth of five meetings with the Blues this season, and third in 13 days. The Wings have won the last two games against St. Louis – 5-3 (on Feb. 1), and 5-1 (last Thursday).
Captain Henrik Zetterberg has three goals for six points against the Blues this season. He matched a career-best when he tallied a five point night on Feb. 1. He has a league-high 13 assists and a team-best 18 points, while registering points in 10 of the last 11 games.
Despite a plethora of injuries in the first month of the season, coach Mike Babcock is delighted to see that the Red Wings are beginning to hit a stride, especially their special teams.
“We have to get better and continue to get better,” Babcock said. “I’ve said (it) a number of times, we’re a work in progress. We’re trying to figure out the best way for this group to play and be successful. I thought our specialty teams have gotten a lot better and that’s a real positive for us, but they have to get better.”
During their winning streak, the Wings’ power play is 3-for-11, while the penalty kill was 9-for-11 against the Blues, Oilers and Kings.
This week in Hockeytown:
WEDNESDAY – vs. ST. LOUIS BLUES (6-4-1): The Blues, who are 0-3-1 in their last four, begin a stringent three-game road trip that starts in Detroit and winds through western Canada with games in Calgary and Vancouver. … Winger Vladimir Tarasenko, who was named the league’s first rookie of the month this season, now has 10 points, including two goals and an assist against Detroit. … The Blues’ leading point producers are defensemen with Kevin Shattenkirk (12 points) and Alex Pietrangelo (11 points) at the top of the team’s scoring list.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Center David Backes has never registered more than five points in the first 10 games of a season, but the Blues’ captain continues to contribute in more of a physical role on a forward line with T.J. Oshie and Andy McDonald. Considered to be one of the best body-checkers in the league, Backes leads the Western Conference with 34 hits, including 12 against the Wings this season.
FRIDAY – vs. ANAHEIM DUCKS (8-2-1): Despite having one of the league’s worst penalty kills – ranked No. 29 – the Ducks currently sit atop of the Pacific Division, one point ahead of San Jose. … By the time the Ducks roll into the Motor City, they will be nearing the end of their longest road trip of the season with six games in 11 nights. … Anaheim has split its goaltending duties, with veteran Jonas Hiller and 30-year-old NHL first-timer Viktor Fasth, who is 5-0-0 and ranked third in the league with a stellar 1.72 goals-against. … There are four Red Wings with former ties to the Ducks, beginning with Babcock, who coached in Anaheim from 2002-04. Forwards Todd Bertuzzi (2007-08) and Drew Miller (2007-09), and defenseman Kent Huskins (2006-09) all played for the Ducks.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Teemu Selanne refuses to allow age to slow him down. The 42-year-old Finnish Flash can still pick a corner or victimize a defenseman and leave him in his wake. He began the season with a four point performance in a season-opening win at Vancouver, becoming the oldest player to record four points in a game since Gordie Howe (42 days, 326 days) did it against the Buffalo Sabres in 1971. Selanne has found chemistry with linemates Kyle Palmieri and Bobby Ryan, and leads the Ducks with 10 assists and 14 points. Selanne produced a second four-point game with a goal and three assists, helping the Ducks to a 6-5 shoot-out win at St. Louis on Saturday.
SUNDAY – at MINNESOTA WILD (5-5-1): The Wild rolled the dice with a pair of high-profile signings when they out-bid other suitors to get forward Zach Parise and defenseman Gary Suter in an off-season move that was meant to instantly catapult the Minnesota franchise into elite company. However, the Wild are still waiting for that first dividends check, as the team has struggled away from home, losing all four road contests, including a 5-3 decision at Detroit on Jan. 25. Detroit wanted to keep its roster stacked with talent, and last July the Wings made offers to Parise and Suter – the top two free agents of the summer – but the pair chose to play together in St. Paul with identical 13-year contracts worth $98 million. Still, Parise leads the Wild with six goals and 10 points, but Suter has a team-low minus-7 rating.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Goalie Niklas Backstrom hasn’t been at his best this season, producing a 4-4-1 record with a 2.53 GAA. It will be interesting to see if Wild coach Mike Yeo chooses to start the Finnish netminder against Detroit. In eight career starts against the Red Wings, Backstrom has just one win, the lowest such total for him against all Western Conference teams. Backstrom is 1-4-3 with a repulsive 3.24 goals-against. … The Wild’s alternative is to use Josh Harding, who has a slightly better lifetime record against Detroit at 4-6-2, but an equally disturbing 3.40 GAA.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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