DETROIT - With just 15 games remaining in the regular season, it’s becoming increasingly difficult for the Red Wings to ignore the standings board that has a permanent home inside their dressing room.
Detroit currently sits in ninth place in the Eastern Conference, two points behind the Philadelphia Flyers and the second and final wild-card spot.
“You just know every game you have to win,” said defenseman Danny DeKeyser. “I don’t know if it’s any harder on you mentally compared to the other way around. You just know that from here on out to the end of the year you have to get points in every game. That’s how it’s going to be. We just have to finish as hard as we can and get the points when you can as long as the opportunity arises.”
They’ll have plenty of opportunities to earn points in the final two weeks of March, as the Wings have eight games in 13 days beginning Tuesday against Toronto. Six of those opponents currently sit ahead of Detroit in the playoff standings, but the last thing DeKeyser wants to do is look too far ahead in a season that could be determined sooner rather than later.
“You can’t look ahead at all,” DeKeyser said. “You have to take it one game at a time. Every game, if you don’t get points it could come back and haunt you. It could be the last game of the year, but we don’t want to be at that point. We want to be in the playoffs after 82 games.”
But it’s no secret that that feat is easier said than done. In this past week alone, the Wings lost Tomas Jurco (broken rib) and Joakim Andersson (broken foot), adding to a host of injuries that includes Henrik Zetterberg (back), Pavel Datsyuk (lower-body), Stephen Weiss (sports hernia), Darren Helm (head), Daniel Cleary (knee), Mikael Samuelsson and Jonas Gustavsson (groin).
Despite the mountain of injuries, the young players from Detroit’s minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids have made key contributions to keep the Wings in the playoff race, including forward Riley Sheahan, who has earned five goals and 10 assists in 26 games this season.
“You earn the right to play all the time,” coach Mike Babcock said. “He’s been a real good player for us. We play him as a one or two guy and he’s played real well for us. Everyone thinks the coach decides who plays, that’s the biggest fallacy in sports, the players decide who plays. We just watch. When they do a good job we play them more.”
Sheahan scored the lone regulation goal in Detroit’s 2-1 shootout victory over Edmonton last Friday, and has recorded three points in the club’s last five games.
“Every day here helps,” Sheahan said. “Being around so many great players, you learn from everyone, you learn from the coaches, every day you get a little step further.
“I’m just trying not to focus on what I’m doing right or what I’m doing wrong, just trying to play my game. I’m fortunate enough to be playing with some great players. When you have guys like Tats, Jurco when he was in, Abdelkader yesterday and (Nyquist), there are so many good ones you’re surrounded by that helps.”
But it doesn’t hurt that he’s also skating alongside several of his teammates from the Grand Rapids Griffins. Including Sheahan, 10 players from the Griffins team that won the 2012-13 Calder Cup have either appeared in or earned permanent spots with Detroit, including defensemen Brian Lashoff, Adam Almquist and DeKesyer, and forwards Gustav Nyquist, Teemo Pulkkinen, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Luke Glendening and Andersson.
“We’re fortunate to have a good run last year and built some chemistry,” Sheahan said. “So far we’ve been getting along great. We have good communication, that’s the biggest thing.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
TUESDAY – vs. Toronto (36-24-8): Tuesday marks the third of four meetings between the Maple Leafs and Red Wings. Both of the previous two matchups ended in shootouts, as Detroit won 5-4 on Dec. 21, and Toronto won 3-2 in the 2014 Winter Classic…The Maple Leafs currently rank second in the Atlantic Division and third in the Eastern Conference with 80 points, seven points ahead of the Wings…When the team scores first, Toronto is 25-6-4, and is nearly unbeatable when ahead after two periods, as the Maple Leafs hold a 25-1-2 record with a lead heading into the final period. But Toronto’s record drastically falls when if the club trails its opponent after 40 minutes (2-16-3)…On March 3, Toronto defeated Los Angeles 3-2, snapping the Kings’ eight-game winning streak. The victory marked the end of the California portion of Toronto’s five-game road trip, in which they finished 2-1-0…Phil Kessel leads Toronto in points (73), goals (34) and assists (39). The forward has also had two games this season with three or more goals, and leads the Maple Leafs with 253 shots. Kessel was named the Best Forward at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi for leading the tournament in goals (tie-5) and points (tie-8) in six games for the USA.
PLAYER TO WATCH: James van Riemsdyk has already surpassed his previous career high of 40 points dating back to the 2010-11 season with Philadelphia, recording 55 points through 66 games this season. The 24-year-old ranks second behind Phil Kessel in points (54), goals (26) and assists (28) and has notched 14 points in the Flyers’ past 13 games. Van Riemsdyk is nearing two career milestones, as the forward only needs nine goals to reach 100 NHL goals and is only six assists away from 100 NHL assists. The forward leads the Maple Leafs with three shorthanded goals and ranks third on the team with 15 power play goals.
THURSDAY – vs. Pittsburgh (44-18-4): Thursday is the second of three meetings and final game in Detroit between the Red Wings and Penguins. Pittsburgh defeated Detroit at the Joe 4-1 on Dec. 14…The Penguins are in second place in the Eastern Conference with 92 points, trailing No. 1 Boston by just three points…Pittsburgh will enter the Joe with a 20-14-2 road record. The Penguins are nearly unbeatable when they find the back of the net first, as they are 31-3-1 when scoring first, and 28-3-1 when leading after two periods…The team possesses the No. 1 power play in the NHL (25.3%) and the third best road power play in the league (24.6%). Detroit may have a difficult time matching up against Pittsburgh’s power play, as the Wings’ home penalty kill of 82.5% ranks 17th in the NHL…Pittsburgh was shut out for the fourth time this season on Saturday, March 15 in the first of a home-and-home series against Philadelphia. Marc-Andre Fleury, who is 34-16-3 in 53 games played, allowed four goals on 40 shots for the Penguins, ending the team’s three-game win streak. Despite having the league’s top-ranked power play, Pittsburgh when 0-for-5 on the man-advantage against the Flyers…Top-line forward Chris Kunitz skated during warm-ups Saturday but was kept out of the game with a day-to-day lower-body injury.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Center Sidney Crosby has earned eight points in Pittsburgh’s last eight games, and is on track to log 110 points this season, which would be second only to the 120 points he earned with Pittsburgh in 2006-07. Crosby leads the league and his team in points (88) and ranks second on his team and first in the NHL in assists (57). The center has played a pivotal role in Pittsburgh’s successful power play, as Crosby has earned ten goals on the man-advantage this season, which is fifth best in the NHL. The 26-year-old’s 31 goals are also ranked fifth best in the league.
SATURDAY – at Minnesota (35-22-10): Saturday marks the opening game of the home-and-home series between Minnesota and Detroit, and the first time the two teams have met this season…With 79 points, the Wild currently occupy the first wild-card position in the Western Conference. Minnesota has a four-point lead on the No. 2 wild-card team, Dallas, and a six-point advantage over Phoenix, who is looking outside in at the playoff picture…While the Wild hold a commanding 23-7-4 home record, the team’s success dwindles on the road, as Minnesota has posted a 12-15-5 record away from Xcel Energy Center. But the Wings have struggled on home ice during the 2013-14 season, earning a 13-11-9 record just two years after setting a record with 23 home victories…Minnesota didn’t record a single regulation loss in February, earning a 4-0-1 record during the shortened month of play…With a 2-1 shootout loss to Columbus on Saturday, March 15, Minnesota lost its third straight shootout in seven days after winning seven of its past eight. The loss marked the end of the team’s four-game homestand in which they recorded a 1-0-3 record…Jason Pominville leads the team in points (46) and goals (24) while Mikko Koivu has earned a team high 29 assists this season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Forward Zach Parise has earned four points in Minnesota’s past four games (2-2-4) and has notched five game-winning goals this season. Parise has tallied at least one point in 11 of the club’s past 13 games, totaling 17 points during that span. The Wild is 15-2-2 when the forward scores this season. At the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Parise served as captain of Team USA, and currently ranks second on his team only to Jason Pominville in points (43) and goals (23) and leads the Wild in shots (195) despite missing 15 games with a foot injury. Parise also leads Minnesota and ranks third in the league in power play goals (12).
SUNDAY – vs. Minnesota (35-22-9): Sunday is the second and final meeting between the Wings and the Wild, concluding the weekend home-and-home series. Minnesota is 6-1-4 in its last 11 games and has earned points in 15 of its last 18 games dating back to Jan. 16. Since Jan. 2, the Wild is 15-5-5 and ranks fourth in the NHL in goals-against/game (2.34) and is tied for seventh in wins (35)…Minnesota is 20-6-10 in one-goal games, and 26-4-4 when scoring first. But the club’s record plummets when its opponent scores first (9-18-6) and when trailing after 20 minutes (2-13-4). Since they began playing on the same line on Jan. 30, Zach Parise (14), Mikael Granlund (11) and Jason Pominville (10) have combined for 35 points in 12 games…Rookie goaltender Darcy Kuemper won his 12th game of the season Thursday, March 13 to set a franchise record for most wins by a rookie goalie, surpassing Josh Harding’s 11 victories in 2007-08. Kuemper’s two shutouts are the most by a rookie goaltender in team history and his 22 games played rank second to Harding, who played in 29 games during the 2007-08 season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jason Pominville leads Minnesota in scoring, having earned 47 points and 25 goals in 67 games this season. The veteran forward has earned five points in Minnesota’s past four games and has earned at least one point in seven of the team’s last nine games dating back to Feb. 6. Drafted by Buffalo in 2001 and acquired by Minnesota in 2013, Pominville has netted goals against all 30 NHL franchises and has hit the 20-goal mark in seven of his nine seasons in the league.
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