Feb. 18: Week Ahead in Hockeytown
Wings welcome Jackets, Preds and Canucks to JLA this week
ST. PAUL, Minn. – The Red Wings have another wild Western Conference week coming up. With four games in the next seven days – including two meetings with their Central Division rivals from Nashville – there are eight big points available for the Wings to pick like low-hanging fruit.
But points won’t necessarily be easy to reach for the Red Wings who continue to battle an inconceivable number of absences from the lineup this season, which has forced coach Mike Babcock to deploy different line combinations and defensive pairings on an almost nightly basis.
Through Sunday, the Red Wings had played six true rookies, not counting Swiss import Damien Brunner, who isn’t eligible for the Calder Trophy because his birthdate came after the Sept. 15 cutline. Only the Ottawa Senators (eight) have played more rookies.
With the exception of defenseman Brendan Smith, who was expected to be on Detroit’s roster all along, injuries have required the call ups of guys like Tomas Tatar, Joakim Andersson, Petr Mrazek, Gustav Nyquist and Brian Lashoff. But with these calls ups bring opportunity.
“It’s just because of injuries, but who cares?” Babcock said, on Sunday morning. “It’s interesting I was listening to some broadcaster talk about hockey and he was basically saying, ‘They don’t know who’s playing.’ When we put on our sweaters we have to find a way to win. It doesn’t matter who’s in, who’s out, who’s at home. It’s the NHL. Let’s play.”
So, with that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
SOG: 20 | +/-: 3
PLAYER TO WATCH: Known more as a fringe player, center Colin Wilson is off to an outstanding season – by his standards. The Connecticut native has never produced more than 35 points in any of his previous three NHL seasons. But already this year, Wilson has four goals and 10 points to lead Nashville in both categories. Though he started slow (one point in seven games) the 23-year-old has collected points in six of the last eight games, including the lone tally in a 1-0 win over San Jose last Tuesday.
SOG: 21 | +/-: -5
PLAYER TO WATCH: A solid all-around veteran defenseman, Fedor Tyutin leads the Blue Jackets in points with 10, including a team-high nine assists. In two games against the Red Wings this season, he has three assists, which is more than a quarter of his career points in nine NHL seasons against Detroit. The 6-foot-2 Russian eats up more than 23 minutes of ice-time per game, including 3:42 of penalty-kill time and 2:59 on the power play, which is less than he’s used to logging since the addition of Jack Johnson on the back-end, and the return of Detroit native James Wisniewski, who is healthy again, and back in the lineup after the birth of his daughter on Saturday.
SOG: 19 | +/-: 0
PLAYER TO WATCH: Center Paul Guastad hasn’t been much of an offensive threat the past three seasons. But in Nashville, he’s more of a defensive contributor and is excellent on the draw. Entering the week, the North Dakota native had the third-most face-off wins in the Western Conference, winning more than 62 percent of his draws in the circle. He has also taken over the net-front roll for the injured Patric Honqvist. Gaustad admits he’s not all that great at tipping shots, but his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame makes him difficult for opposing goalies to see around.
GAA: 1.45 | SVP: 0.943
PLAYER TO WATCH: For all of the talk that Luongo was on the fast track out of Vancouver, man, has the tide ever turned. Luongo and his command of the butterfly style don’t appear to be going anywhere soon. The 33-year-old Montreal native leads the NHL with a stingy 1.45 goals-against average and is second-best with a .943 save percentage. Luongo has won four straight games while allowing just four goals in those contests. It certainly seems like the Canucks have a goaltending controversy brewing, because interestingly enough, Cory Schneider has given up just four goals in his four wins this season. However, it’s the 13 goals that he’s allowed in losses to Dallas, San Jose and Anaheim that has given Luongo new life in Vancouver. At least for now.