March 4: Week Ahead in Hockeytown
Wings welcome Avs, Oilers, Jackets to JLA this week
DETROIT – Aside from the number of games on the Red Wings’ docket this week – four in six days – at least on the surface it looks like a fairly easy road to hoe.
But don’t be fooled, Red Wings’ fans.
Though the Wings have dates against three teams, all of whom are currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, the Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets, twice, won’t be pushovers.
The good news for the Wings is that three of these games are home at Joe Louis Arena. But these games are particularly crucial for the Wings, especially since it’s the only time in the next month and a half that they’ll host as many games in a one week period.
The Wings must take advantage of this schedule, especially the games against the Avs and Blue Jackets, who are the most penalized teams in the Western Conference. Both teams are averaging 15.2 penalty minutes per game.
Thursday’s game against Edmonton will mark the halfway point of this lockout-shortened 48-game schedule for the Red Wings. This week’s possible eights-points are critical, because 15 of the final 24 games are away from the friendly confines of The Joe.
So, with that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
SOG: 47 | +/-: 4
PLAYER TO WATCH: Matt Duchene is coming off a solid month, leading the Avs with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 11 games during February. He also had four multi-point games last month. In the last three-plus seasons, the Avs are 24-11-3 when Duchene collects more than one point in a game. The former third overall draft pick in 2009, Duchene leads Colorado in assists (12), points (19), average ice time (21:20) and face-off percentage (53.1%). … Duchene has averaged a point a game in 12 career contests against the Red Wings, with six of his 12 points coming on the Avs’ power play.
SOG: 46 | +/-: -4
PLAYER TO WATCH: Like the Red Wings’ Brendan Smith, Oilers rookie defenseman Justin Schultz has incredible offensive instincts. He still has plenty to learn, though he’s been a huge part of the Oilers’ success on the power play this season, ranking among top league and rookie leaders in many categories, including seventh in defensive scoring, and third in rookie scoring with 13 points. The former Wisconsin Badgers defenseman is tied with Yakupov at the top of rookie power-play scoring with four goals. Schultz has a goal and five assists in the last six games, and is currently on a career-best four-game point streak. … Between playing in the AHL (during the lockout) and his first stint in the NHL, Schultz has played in 55 games, which is 12 more games than he ever played in any single season at Wisconsin.
SOG: 21 | +/-: 2
PLAYER TO WATCH: Though undersized at 5-foot-7 and 172-pounds, Cam Atkinson has a nose for the net, and certainly gives the Blue Jackets plenty of energy when he’s on the ice. He’s recorded four goals and three assists in his last five home games, which dates back to last season. An upper left ankle sprain sidelined the 23-year-old Atkinson for 13 games. However, he’s played in two of three games against Detroit, collecting half of his season totals of two goals and two assists against the Red Wings.
SOG: 35 | +/-: 2
PLAYER TO WATCH: Former Western Michigan star Mark Letestu – who led the Broncos in scoring during the one CCHA season he played (2006-07) – is in a three-way tie for the Blue Jackets’ scoring lead with 11 points. The third-year NHL center brings good hockey sense to the Jackets, along with quality face-off skills, where he leads Columbus with 111 wins in the circle this season. He has five goals and eight assists this year, but is heating up over the last three games with three assists and a plus-2 rating. Letestu has two points, both goals, in seven career games against Detroit.