DETROIT – It’s back to work time for the Red Wings as the NHL schedule resumes this week following a 16-day layoff during the Sochi Olympics.
Before the regular-season interruption the Red Wings were in the middle of a playoff race, holding down the eighth and final seed in the Eastern Conference standings with five teams within four points of over-taking them.
Detroit will dive right back into the East race with games at Montreal and Ottawa this week, which might be a blessing for the team that has struggled mightily at home this season.
Detroit, Buffalo, Montreal and Los Angeles are the only teams playing back to back nights coming out of the break, and the Kings and Red Wings (15-9-4) are the only ones doing so with consecutive games on the road, where they’ve had surprising success this season.
“Two of the biggest games of the year by far. We’re chasing Montreal and Ottawa is chasing us,” defenseman Kyle Quincey said. “So there’s nothing like having 20-odd days off and coming back and playing huge games. We know the playoffs are going to come down to one or two points, so easily it could come down to these two games. We know that going in and that’s why we’re so focused on getting ready for them.”
The Wings’ Olympians, including center Pavel Datsyuk and goalie Jimmy Howard, are expected back Tuesday, however associate coach Tom Renney said he can’t imagine that the Swedes – who played in Sunday’s gold-medal final – will get back on the ice before Wednesday.
“The emphasis is (to) win right away,” Renney said. “Everyone’s got to deal with the same circumstances, coming off a break, having somebody at least on their team participating in the Olympic Games. We’ll just go out and try to play Red Wing hockey, and make sure everybody is dialed into that.”
Against the Canadiens and Senators this season the Red Wings are 2-2-0, including an ugly 6-1 home loss to Ottawa in October followed by the sentimental return of Daniel Alfredsson to the Canadian capital in December.
“What sticks out for me is that Ottawa beat us pretty good in our building and obviously the Alfie game was really emotional and we had a really good game that game,” Quincey said. “So they can be two different teams, so let’s hope the team in Ottawa shows up and not the one we played at home.”
Playing without captain Henrik Zetterberg for two months or so will also be a challenge for everyone on the team to step up whether it’s as a leader in the locker room or as point-producer in the offensive zone.
Datsyuk, who missed a month of the NHL season prior to the start of the Olympic tournament, looked good as Russia’s leading scoring. And Johan Franzen (concussion), who still must be cleared by team doctors, is optimistic that he’ll play Wednesday at Molson Centre.
“Month and a half here left, we got to find a way to win some games,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “Hopefully, Pav comes back and he’s close to healthy; he’d be a big lift. Franzen would be another lift. I think it’s important for us to come together and play like we have been, doing a lot of good things. It’s not going to be easy void. No one’s going to fill it themselves. It’s going to have to be as a group.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
WEDNESDAY – at MONTREAL (32-21-6): Right off the hop, the Red Wings are faced with trying to beat one of the league’s top goaltenders in the Canadiens’ Carey Price. A workhorse of a goalie, Canada’s gold-winning goalie is currently second in the league in games played (48), shots faced (1,459), saves made (1,350) and shutout victories (four). Detroit claimed a 4-1 win over the Habs at JLA on Jan. 24, but this will be the Red Wings’ first trip to Molson Centre in more than two years. The Original Six rivals will face-off two more times in the regular season – March 27 at The Joe, and April 5 in Montreal. … The Canadiens have the third best penalty kill in the league at 86 percent. They are also 27-0-3 when leading at the start of the third period. … Since allowing four or more goals in six consecutive games in January, the Habs have tightened up their defense surrendering just eight goals in the past seven games (5-1-1), including home shutout wins over Carolina and Calgary. … Right wing Brendan Gallagher produced one goal and eight points with a plus-7 rating in his past seven games before the Olympic break.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Left winger Max Pacioretty has had a heck of a month leading up to him representing USA in the Sochi Olympics. The former University of Michigan forward became just the second Canadiens’ player since 2000 to register two hat tricks in one season, joining fellow Michigan alumnus Mike Cammalleri, who recorded two three-goal games for the Habs during the 2009-10 season. Pacioretty, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals, recorded his tricks in home wins against Minnesota (Nov. 19) and Vancouver (Feb. 6). … Coincidentally, Pacioretty could have scored five goals in the 5-2 win over the Canucks as he was awarded two penalty shots in a two-minute span in the second period but failed to convert either. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he is the second player in league history to attempt two penalty shots in one game. Carolina’s Erik Cole scored on one of his two penalty shots in a 5-3 victory over Buffalo on Nov. 9, 2005.
THURSDAY – at OTTAWA (26-22-11): This is the fourth and final regular-season game against these new Atlantic Division rivals with Ottawa owning a 2-1-0 season-series record. The Senators have the league’s best power play on the road, however, it’s completely flip-flopped at home where they rank dead last in power-play efficiency (11-for-98). … This season, the Sens have a 10-0-3 record when captain Jason Spezza has produced at least two points, and they’re 16-21-8 in all other games. He has registered 10 points in his past seven games. … The Senators are scheduled to wear the heritage jersey for the 10th time this season when the puck drops Thursday against Detroit. The Senators are 4-5-0 this season when they’ve worn their heritage sweaters.
PLAYER TO WATCH: It not surprising that the leading scorer among all NHL defensemen this season was also one of the most-dominant blue-liners in the Sochi Olympics. Erik Karlsson scored the game-winning goal in Sweden’s 2-1 semifinal victory over Finland last Friday. He finished with four goals and eight points to lead all defensemen in scoring and was named the tournament’s best defenseman. … He has two goals and two assists in the Senators past three games.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
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