DETROIT – Tonight the Red Wings are looking to produce back to back home wins for just the second time since last April when they strung together a four-game winning streak in the final week of the season to solidify a playoff spot.
Coming off an impressive 5-4 shootout victory against the defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks two nights ago, the Wings hope to maintain that same energy from Wednesday’s win when they host the Montreal Canadiens tonight.
Since a bevy of injuries began to decimate the lineup last month, the Red Wings have struggled to maintain any type of chemistry with an influx of minor-league players joining what healthy veterans remained in the locker room. Yet, while they have limped to a 4-5-1 record in the last 10 games, the Wings remain in striking distance in the standings, and with a regulation win tonight can take a big step in chasing down Atlantic Division rival Montreal.
If the Red Wings can roll out four lines that play with the same kind of energy and intensity that they played with in Wednesday’s win, they should give themselves an outstanding chance to beat the Canadiens for the first time since they last hosted the Habs on Dec. 10, 2010.
“Obviously, we’d like to do that but it’s a hard thing to do, especially at this time of year when it kind of seems like the dog days,” said forward Patrick Eaves, who played a great game against the Blackhawks. “We just have to collectively have the same mindset as we did last game and work together. We have to be five guys in the same zone and I think when we do that we’re pretty successful.”
For the third straight game the Red Wings will welcome back an injured player. Tonight, Alfredsson returns after sitting out the last six games with back spasms. The veteran forward is expected to play on the third line with forward Daniel Cleary and Helm, who is playing in his third game since returning from a sore groin.
“Alfie is a great player. Helmer’s a great player,” Cleary said. “When you play with great players you have to do what you do best, and for me that’s skating, forechecking and being at the net and let Helm use his speed through the neutral zone and try to give the puck to Alfie as much as we can.”
During his playing career in Ottawa, Alfredsson had tremendous success against the Canadiens. But the first-year Red Wing is more concerned about getting back into game-shape than he is about the 105 career points he’s produced against the Original Six club.
“You work yourself in,” he said. “Definitely, simple and short shifts to get into it. You can skate as much as you want in practice but it’s a different pace in games, more physical as well so trying not to get caught out there too long is definitely going to help.
GOOD SIGNS: The Red Wings had 26 players on the ice during Friday’s morning skate at Joe Louis Arena. The four players still recovering from injuries – Pavel Datsyuk, Joakim Andersson, Jimmy Howard, Johan Franzen and Stephen Weiss – all skated.
“To be honest with you it’s way too many players out there for a pre-game skate,” coach Mike Babcock said. “The goalie’s dying. It’s good to have guys coming back now they have to push to get their jobs back.”
Howard, who hurt his left knee in the first period of Monday’s 4-1 to St. Louis, said he’s shooting for a return Tuesday when the Red Wings play the Flyers at Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center.
“That’s what we’re shooting for here,” Howard said. “It felt good going down in a controlled setting so it’s do more treatment, workout again tonight and see how it feels in the morning. … We knew it wasn’t as serious as it was before. It’s good that it’s coming back this quickly.”
Andersson (lower body) has skated the past two days and said he’s gunning for a return this Sunday when the Red Wings host the Florida Panthers.
Meanwhile, Weiss, who had surgery to repair a sports hernia last month, remains on target for a return after the Olympic break in late February.
“I’m really amazed how fast this thing goes,” Weiss said. “You go from feeling terrible to skating not long after that. I was walking on the treadmill maybe a week to 10 days ago and now I’m on the ice five days in a row.
“The key is to not fool yourself into thinking everything is great. There was still some work down in there so you need to take it slow. I’m happy with how it’s going.”
PRICE IS NOT RIGHT: Canadians’ Carey Price, who has 22 wins to go with the third-best save percentage (.921) among the top 10 goalies in the league, was pulled Wednesday after allowing the fifth goal at 15:03 of the second period in Pittsburgh. He has allowed four or more goals in each of his last five road games – seven all season – though he's managed to record two wins in those five games.
“He’s a good goalie. He has all the skill set you can ever imagine,” said Babcock, who will take him to Sochi with the Canadian Olympic team. “He skates real good. He’s soft when the puck hits him it sticks to him. He plays the puck real well. He’s a good goalie. Now he’s at the point in his career where he needs to become a championship goalie like great Canadian goalies of the past.”
According to Elias Sports Bureau, the only other goaltenders in Canadiens’ history to give up at least four goals in each of five or more consecutive road games in one season were the legendary Georges Vezina in 1919-20 (six straight games), Paul Bibeault in 1942-43 (six) and Jose Theodore in 1996-97 (five).
Price is expected to get the start tonight. The 26-year-old British Columbia native is 2-2-1 in his career against Detroit.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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