DETROIT – The Winnipeg Jets are rolling with four straight wins, but coming to the Motor City on Saturday night to play the Detroit Red Wings (7 p.m., CBC, FS-D) will be a challenge both physically and mentally after beating the Carolina Hurricanes at home Friday night.
At least, that's what the Red Wings are hoping. They overwhelmed the Phoenix Coyotes at Joe Louis Arena on Thursday by scoring all five of their goals in a 5-2 win in the first period and hope to come out strong against the Jets, too.
"Important game for us tonight," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said after a brief morning skate. "It's a good opportunity. You don't catch teams that get in at four in the morning very often and, so, when the scheduler is helping you out you'd better take advantage of it.
The Jets (13-11-4), like the Red Wings (17-9-1), have fared much better at home than away from MTS Centre – where they improved to 9-4-0 on home ice against the Hurricanes . On the road, Winnipeg carries a 4-7-4 record and the Jets have come up short in both games against Central Division teams thus far.
For Detroit, it's a bit of a flip from last season -- when the Red Wings were pretty good on the road and had some struggles at home. Wings goalie Jimmy Howard said there has been a difference between the way they've played in Detroit this year, as opposed to other arenas.
“We’re just putting pucks on net, retrieving them and not letting the other team’s D off the hook,” he said. “We’ve gotten on teams early and scored some early goals. In the NHL, it’s tough playing catch-up hockey.”
As for last year's struggles at Joe Louis Arena, Howard said the difference now might be in the Wings' mental approach on home ice.
“Last year, I don’t know what the case was,” Howard said. “Maybe we were trying to be too fancy. We’ve simplified things at home here of late.”
The Jets still have a handful of guys not playing because of various ailments, while Detroit’s biggest injury is to star center Pavel Datsuk (lower body). He left the game Thursday against Phoenix early and didn’t practice on Friday, but went through Saturday’s skate and will play.
The 32-year old Datsyuk also had a little fun with reporters Saturday, especially when asked whether he needed Friday off to rest.
“I always need a day off,” he said. “Just give me a chance … I’ll use it. Not afraid to take a day off. “I’m now old, so maybe I’m starting to forget.”
Babcock said the injury is more of a bump and isn’t a matter of torn ligaments. Datsyuk had a pair of assists in a five-goal first period Thursday and also had some fun on the ice Saturday morning by keeping the puck away from teammates during individual drills.
Has the undisclosed injury held him back at all?
“A little bit, maybe,” Datsyuk said. “Just being careful, though – it’s not bad. Everything’s fine.”
Otherwise, Detroit is healthy and looking to improve on that home record – which sits atop the League at 11-2-1. The Jets, meanwhile, didn't get into Detroit until 3 a.m. EST on Saturday morning. As a result, they didn't hold a skate. Here is how the lineups could look Saturday night for Detroit and Winnipeg:
Evander Kane - Bryan Little - Blake Wheeler
Andrew Ladd - Kyle Wellwood - Alexander Burmistrov
Tanner Glass - Jim Slater - Chris Thorburn
Carl Clingberg - Tim Stapleton - Jason Jaffray
Johnny Oduya - Dustin Byfuglien
Mark Stuart - Zach Begosian
Randy Jones - Mark Flood
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Henrik Zetterberg - Jiri Hudler
Chris Conner - Darren Helm - Danny Cleary
Drew Miller - Justin Abdelkader - Tomas Holmstrom
Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Jonathan Ericsson
Brad Stuart - Jakub Kindl