Red Wings pay visit to struggling Blue Jackets
RED WINGS (19-14-5) at BLUE JACKETS (14-18-7)
Detroit 6-4-0; Columbus 1-7-2
Detroit leads the season series 2-0 after knocking off Columbus, 2-1, Saturday at Joe Louis Arena. Monday's meeting will cap a home-and-home for the division rivals.
With the Wings battling myriad injuries to stay near the top eight in the West, they'll look to get two points from the struggling Jackets, who are quickly -- and surprisingly -- fading from the playoff picture.
The first time these teams met this year, Detroit dealt Columbus a 9-1 pasting, but that was a very different, and much healthier group wearing red and white. The Wings have been beset by a remarkable number of injuries this season, with five players currently listed on the IR, in addition to the ailing Jonathan Ericsson
and Henrik Zetterberg
. Despite the black-and-blue roster, Detroit has managed to stay in the thick of the playoff race, and is still within range of the playoffs.
Still, the injuries may finally be catching up with the Red Wings. Since a four-game winning streak earlier this month, Detroit had lost three straight before beating Columbus Saturday, including back-to-back shutouts against Original Six-rival Chicago. While Pavel Datsyuk
has been producing, with eight points in eight games, he may be the only Red Wing doing so. With just two games left in December, Detroit has yet to score four goals in an outing this month. In fact, the Wings have averaged a paltry two goals per game since November 30.
Despite the struggles in Detroit, Columbus gets to lay claim to the longest prolonged slump in the Central Division. The Jackets are currently mired in a nine-game losing streak, which has seen them pick up only two points. The result has been a freefall that has landed Columbus near the basement of the Western Conference -- the Jackets currently sit just one point ahead of the cellar-dwelling Oilers.
While Columbus is struggling offensively -- star forward Rick Nash has just one point in the last four games -- the Jackets' power play is still among the League leaders. The bigger concern might be in net, where coach Ken Hitchcock has recently begun alternating last year's Calder Trophy winner, Steve Mason, with backup Mathieu Garon until one of them can snag a win. Even in that regard, the prospects appear grim. Mason has lost eight of his last nine starts, while Garon hasn't led the Jackets to two points since Nov. 16. To curtail the slide, Columbus will need a stark turnaround in just about every facet of the game.
Who's hot: Todd Bertuzzi
has continued his impressive offensive run this season with eight goals and two assists in his last eight games. In Columbus, Antoine Vermette has a four-game point streak.
The Jackets found out Saturday that they will be without Marc Methot for 1-2 weeks with an upper-body injury, while Derek Dorsett and Rostislav Klesla are both expected to miss two more weeks with a broken hand and torn groin, respectively. Of course, those absences seem minor compared to Detroit, which is still missing Johan Franzen
, Jason Williams, Niklas Kronwall
, Dan Cleary
, Ericsson and Zetterberg. Zetterberg, out with a separated shoulder, is expected to return some time after next week.
As evidenced by Detroit's low offensive output this month, the Wings' recent woes certainly aren't the fault of the men in net. In fact, Jimmy Howard
is 5-3 in his last eight starts, with an impressive 1.75 goals-against average.
After meeting in the opening round of the playoffs a year ago, it is surprising to see the Wings and Jackets both on the outside looking in. With Detroit a perennial contender, and Columbus looking like an up-and-coming one, both teams seemed safe bets to be in the race for the postseason. But with the struggles both have incurred so far, Monday's showdown at Nationwide Arena is a valuable opportunity for the Jackets to stem the tide and start their long climb back. That won't be easy against the Wings. Detroit swept Columbus in last postseason and would no doubt be eager to deal a major blow to its division rival.