There's little doubt that the Detroit Red Wings have been the NHL's best team as the All-Star break approaches. The Anaheim Ducks are the defending Stanley Cup champions, though, and over the past month, they've started to play like it.
Detroit looks for its ninth win in its past 10 road games on Wednesday night when it concludes a three-game trip to California with a game against the surging Ducks, the team that upset the Red Wings in last season's playoffs.
No team has had more points than Detroit (36-10-4) in any of the last three NHL seasons, yet the Red Wings' regular-season success hasn't translated to the playoffs. They haven't reached the Stanley Cup finals in that span, and have twice been eliminated in the postseason by the Ducks, including the Western Conference finals last spring.
Anaheim (27-18-6) began defense of its championship with a 4-7-1 record, and was 15-15-4 on Dec. 14. Since then, though, the Ducks have started to resemble the team that won 16 of 21 playoff games last spring on the way to its first Stanley Cup. They're 12-3-1 in their past 16 games, and have won their last seven on home ice.
The Red Wings are on pace for 125 points in 2007-08, which would be the best regular season in the NHL since Detroit put up 131 points in 1995-96.
They're 16-6-2 this season away from Joe Louis Arena, and have outscored their opponents 33-12 in going 8-1-0 in their last nine road contests. The Red Wings beat San Jose 6-3 on Saturday to start their West Coast trip, then defeated Los Angeles 3-0 on Tuesday as Chris Osgood made 25 saves to earn his third shutout of the season.
"I'm just working hard in practice and doing the little things to stay sharp in practice so you're not second-guessing yourself in the game," Osgood said. "I'm just playing and having fun and not thinking too much."
Despite their excellent road play, trips to Anaheim haven't gone well lately for the Red Wings. The Ducks beat Detroit 6-3 at Honda Center on Oct. 15 - the only time the Red Wings have given up six goals in regulation this season - and they've won five of the past six meetings against Detroit in Southern California.
Although he's only the fifth-leading scorer on the team, Daniel Cleary has been one of the Red Wings' best players of late. He has seven goals and six assists in his last 10 games.
Cleary will likely see more scoring opportunities with leading scorer Henrik Zetterberg out with a sore back. Zetterberg, who has 28 goals and 33 assists, sat out against Los Angeles and will remain sidelined through Saturday's All-Star game.
Dominik Hasek is likely to start in goal against the Ducks. Since Dec. 4, Hasek is 11-2-1 with a 1.63 goals-against average and three shutouts. However, he's 0-3-0 with a 4.10 GAA in his last three starts in Anaheim.
The Ducks lost 5-2 at Dallas on Sunday in the finale of a three-game road trip, giving up four third-period goals while seeing their run of nine straight games without a regulation loss snapped.
"We didn't play our game," Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said. "We didn't do anything with the puck, for whatever reason. We're going to turn the page. I guarantee you we're not going to keep the tape on this one."
One positive for Anaheim was the continuation of Ryan Getzlaf's point streak. The third-year center had a goal against Dallas, extending his streak to 14 games - he's posted six goals and 15 assists during the run.
Getzlaf, who leads Anaheim with 57 points, has five goals and four assists in nine career games against the Red Wings.