Feb. 3: Look Ahead in Hockeytown
It's the Red Wings' last chance to stockpile points before Olympic break
|Gustav Nyquist has scored two goals, including a game-winner, this season against the Florida Panthers. (Photo by Getty Images)|
DETROIT – Questions continue to swirl around the Red Wings’ locker room.
Will Pavel Datsyuk recover in time from a leg injury to captain Russia’s national team? Will Gustav Nyquist replace Johan Franzen on Sweden’s roster? Can Mike Babcock coach Team Canada to a second straight gold?
While most queries have been about the Sochi Olympics, the bigger issue is the Red Wings’ current standing in the Eastern Conference playoff race as they prepare for games against the Canucks, Panthers and Lightning this week.
Will the Red Wings get into the playoffs?
Following Sunday’s 6-5 overtime loss at Washington, the Red Wings enter this week with 60 points, a smidge ahead of the Philadelphia Flyers (60 points) for the second – and last – wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
“It doesn’t matter who scores if we don’t get two points, that’s our goal every time we go into a game,” said Nyquist, who enjoyed the first four-point performance of his young career on Sunday. “That (two points) is way more important. Didn’t come out the way we wanted in the first but we found a way to battle back. That was nice to see.”
The next six days leadin up to the Olympic break are critical for the Red Wings in their pursuit of a 23rd straight appearance in the Stanley Cup playoffs. But with Detroit, Columbus, Philadelphia, Carolina, Washington, Ottawa and New Jersey all separated by two points, these six available points could be the difference between the postseason and an early start to the offseason.
This week, the Wings are facing a trio of struggling teams, which, in and of itself can present a trap. Both Vancouver and Florida have dropped four of their last five games, and Tampa Bay has lost three straight. However, against the three opponents, the Red Wings have accumulated a 2-2-3 record this season.
The Wings can’t let up on the goals-scoring accelerator and striking first blood will only help their plight. Detroit has averaged 3.33 goals in the last six games, which is up from 2.65 in the previous 46 games. Unfortunately, their goals against has also increased.
But like Babcock has said all season long, the Wings are better off when they focus on things that they can control.
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
PLAYER TO WATCH: Livonia native Ryan Kesler has five game-winning goals, which is tied for fourth in the league, four behind Anaheim’s Corey Perry. Kesler is now two game-winning goals from tying his season best seven (2010-11), and his 25 career game-winners is ninth-best in the franchise history, one behind Thomas Gradin. … Kesler produced a season-high three points in the Canucks’ last game, a 4-3 loss at Winnipeg Friday night. He now has eight points in his last six games.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Should there be a need to settle this game with the skills competition, watch out for the league’s best active goal-scorer in the shootout. Lats month, Panthers forward Brad Boyes netted his 37th career SO goal in a 2-1 win over Buffalo on Jan. 9. His lifetime 46.8 percent success rate is best among active skaters, and he’s tied for second among league leaders with six SO goals this season, including a winner vs. the Red Wings on Dec. 10. … Boyes has points in four straight games, with three goals in that stretch, giving him 15 goals and 11 assists this season.
Valtteri Filppula missed his first game of the season, sitting out Saturday’s game in Montreal with a lower-body injury. The former Red Wing is expected to return to the Lightning’s lineup Tuesday at Minnesota.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Young defenseman Victor Hedman has produced nine points over his past five games, including three-assist games in back-to-back home wins over Ottawa and Colorado two weeks ago. Hedman is the first Lightning defenseman to accomplish that feat. … Last month, the 23-year-old played in his 300th career game, and leads all Tampa Bay defensemen in goals (11) and points (35). He ranks fourth among league defensemen in goals and is second among all skaters with four short-handed points.