The Detroit Red Wings and Nashville Predators engaged in a season-long battle for the Central Division title and top spot in the Western Conference in 2006-07. A month into this season, Detroit is playing like it wants no part of another tightly contested race.
The Red Wings (11-2-1) try for their eighth straight victory as they return home Wednesday to take on Nashville (7-7-0) for the first time this season.
Detroit went 6-1-1 against Nashville in 2006-07, the decisive factor in the Wings edging their division rival by three points for the No. 1 seed in the West. The Red Wings won one less game than the Predators, yet had 113 points to the 110 of Nashville and Anaheim.
Detroit will have had six days off following a bizarre stretch of schedule in which it played a four-game western road trip against U.S. teams before returning to Joe Louis Arena for two home contests. The Wings then headed west again to face Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
Chris Osgood may be the biggest key to Detroit's season-opening surge. The veteran backup is 7-0-0 with a 1.43 goals-against average, with four of those wins coming since No. 1 goaltender Dominik Hasek went down with a sore hip.
"I'm confident and I'm feeling good when I'm playing," Osgood said. "I've had some breaks along the way too but you have to (in order to get) that kind of record."
While Osgood is among the league's best at keeping the puck out of the net, left wing Henrik Zetterberg has been perhaps the most lethal offensive player in the NHL so far. Zetterberg has 12 goals and 12 assists to lead the league in points and has been particularly effective on the power play, recording five goals and five assists. He has a point in all 14 of Detroit's games.
"We have such a great team and the whole team is playing really good right now," Zetterberg said.
Detroit is in the midst of its best stretch since early last season, when it won nine straight from Oct. 25-Nov. 14.
Nashville also comes into this matchup on a hot streak. After struggling to a 2-6-0 start, the Predators have won five of six and three in a row. The three consecutive victories, all coming on the road, were each by three goals.
Like the Red Wings, the Predators are relying on a backup in net who has responded by compiling a perfect record. Dan Ellis, a second-round pick of Dallas in 2000 whose previous NHL experience was one game four seasons ago, is 4-0-0 with two shutouts and a 1.35 GAA in four starts - all coming since Oct. 25.
Ellis was called upon to relieve Chris Mason three times during early season losses, but has split the starting duties with Mason since.
Mason ended a personal seven-game losing streak with a 5-2 win over Chicago on Sunday night, making 30 saves. Nashville, which scored the first two goals of the game, is 6-0-0 this season when it gets on the board first.
"It feels really good, but it's one game," Mason said. "It seemed like a long stretch when you forget what winning's like a little bit."
Both teams are at the beginning of long stretches against divisional opponents. The win in Chicago was the Predators' first of eight straight games against Central teams, while the Red Wings will start their run of nine division games in a row.
Detroit leads the series with Nashville 30-10-5 with four ties.
|Mar 30 '08||NSH 0 at DET 1 - OT||J. Franzen|
|Mar 20 '08||DET 6 at NSH 3||J. Franzen|
|Mar 15 '08||NSH 3 at DET 1||R. Peverley|
|Mar 09 '08||NSH 3 at DET 4||J. Franzen|
|Feb 12 '08||DET 2 at NSH 4||J. Dumont|
|Dec 10 '07||DET 2 at NSH 1||V. Filppula|
|Nov 22 '07||DET 2 at NSH 3||R. Bonk|
|Nov 07 '07||NSH 2 at DET 3 - SO||P. Datsyuk|