DETROIT – Thursday in Midtown Manhattan the Red Wings will drop the puck on a very busy – and vitally important – stretch of games over a 13-day period ending Jan. 28 at Philadelphia.
Detroit is coming off a four-game road trip after posting a 2-2-0 mark against some of the top teams in the Western Conference. Through 46 games, the Wings are just two points off last season’s pace when they finished with a flurry by winning four straight to claim the West’s No. 7 seed.
The Wings are just as desperate for points now and could benefit from a good push here before next month’s Olympic break. One of the new kids in the East, Detroit beings this week in the final guaranteed post-season berth in the Eastern Conference.
“We got to win another game,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “We need points badly. We’ll get a bit of a rest, two practice days and get ready to compete hard.”
The Wings have just two games this week – against the Rangers in their first of two visits to Madison Square Garden this season, and Saturday’s home game against Los Angeles. However, injuries continue to be an unfortunate theme to this season.
It might be too early to know if Pavel Datsyuk (lower body) and Daniel Alfredsson (back spasms) will rejoin the lineup this week. Both are day-to-day after missing the two games in Southern California over the weekend.
The Wings haven’t been 100 percent healthy at any point since training camp with at least 13 regulars missing six or more games, including Darren Helm, Stephen Weiss, Danny DeKeyser, Jonas Gustavsson and Johan Franzen, who have already missed a third of the season.
“What are you going to do about it?” Babcock asked rhetorically. “I’m tired of talking about the guys that are injured. … So this is the group we have. The guys we called up play hard. Riley Sheahan, I thought, was great. (Luke) Glendening plays hard every night. (Tomas) Jurco when he was up played real well.”
While the hope is others – like Franzen (concussion), Helm (groin), Weiss (sports hernia) and Jonathan Ericsson (fractured ribs) – could begin to return as soon as this week, one player that won’t make the trip to the Big Apple is forward Tomas Tatar. He returned to Slovakia for his father’s funeral this week.
Tatar has scored in three of the last four games for Detroit, which ranks near the top of the league with 3.14 goals per road games. Only Chicago, Anaheim and Pittsburgh have scored more goals on the road this season. He is among a slew of young players who have helped the Wings remain in the playoff race.
“I think the guys that have come up from Grand Rapids have done a great job for us,” said captain Henrik Zetterberg, who missed 11 games last month with a sore back. “They played with a lot of grit and a lot of speed and it kinds of speeds up us old guys.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
THURSDAY – at NEW YORK RANGERS (24-20-3): One of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference lately, the Rangers have registered a point in seven of their last eight games at home (5-1-2), with four of those contests going to a shootout. New York is currently playing a stretch of seven home games in an eight-game span before the Rangers take to the outdoors with back-to-back “road” games at Yankee Stadium later this month. …The Rangers have registered 40 or more shots seven times this season, including their first 40 shot effort in a 3-2 overtime win at Detroit on Oct. 26. The Blueshirts have produced 40 or more shots in four of the last 10 games, and rank fifth in the NHL with 32.2 shots per game. … Last week, Rick Nash scored a pair of game-winning goals against the Stars and Flyers giving the veteran left winger 51 GWG in his 11-season career, which ties him for 19th among active NHL players. … Center Brad Richards is on a five-game point streak, producing two goals and five assists during the streak, including two multi-point efforts. Richards’ linemate, forward Ryan Callahan had a four-game point streak stopped Sunday. He has registered a goal and three assists in his last five games. … Daniel Alfredsson scored his first power-play goal of the season in the Wings’ 3-2 OT loss to the Rangers. The veteran forward now has 59 points, including 22 goals in 61 games against the Blueshirts.
PLAYER TO WATCH: At 31-years-old, Henrik Lundqvist is the youngest active NHL goalie to reach the 290-win plateau, but the nine-season veteran hasn’t had much success against the Red Wings. In five career games, the Swede has a 1-3-1 record with a 3.19 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage against the Wings. However, King Henrik is heating up just in time to lead his home county into the Sochi Olympics next month. Lundquist is 5-1-1 in his last seven starts. … He was injured and did not play in the Rangers’ win at Joe Louis Arena earlier in the season. Lundqvist has allowed 17 career goals to the Red Wings, including tallies by current players Henrik Zetterberg (2), Pavel Datsyuk (2), Johan Franzen (2), Daniel Cleary and Mikael Samuelsson.
SATURDAY – vs. LOS ANGELES (27-14-5): This is the second and last time these teams will meet this season. Detroit won the first meet when it got goals by rookie center Riley Sheahan and forwards Tomas Tatar and Cleary to defeat the Kings, 3-1, at Staples Center last Saturday. The game marked the first time in Tyler Toffoli’s career that the rookie center was a minus. Still, the Scarborough, Ontario, native is a plus-14, which is tied for the league rookie lead with Tampa Bay’s Ondrej Palat. It was also the first time in 16 games that defenseman Alec Martinez was a minus. The Rochester Hills native has four goals and seven points in 33 games with a plus-9 rating this season. … Los Angeles is 2-1-1 since posting a season-worst five-game losing streak that ended Jan. 2. The Kings still hold the third seed in the Pacific Division, but the fourth-place Vancouver Canucks are just two-points behind the division's final guaranteed playoff slot. It also helps that Kings have a healthy Jonathan Quick back in the lineup. The No. 1 goaltender is 2-1-1 since missing 24 games with a lower-body injury, allowing no more than two goals in three of the four games. … Forward Jeff Carter has recorded at least a point in seven of his past 11 games, scoring seven goals and three assists. … This is the first game at Joe Louis Arena in 26 days and is all-time game No. 5,990 in Red Wings’ franchise history. The Red Wings are scheduled to play their 6,000th game on Feb. 8 against the Lightning at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
PLAYER TO WATCH: With his assist in Saturday’s loss to Detroit, center Anze Kopitar has eight points in the last 10 games; 12 points in the last 16 games; 26 points in the last 33 games; and 32 points in the last 38 games. … Kopitar is ranked third among league skaters with eight or more shootout attempts. He is 5-for-8 with a league-leading four game-deciding goals. Only Florida’s Brad Boyes and Winnipeg’s Andrew Ladd – both are 6-for-9 – have better shooting percentages. Kopitar is sixth among active skaters with 29 career shootout goals. His plus-22 rating has him tied with Chicago’s Jonathan Toews for first among league centers in the category. Kopitar has produced nine goals and 24 points with a minus-7 rating in 27 career games against the Red Wings.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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