DETROIT – The last three games here at Joe Louis Arena, the Detroit Red Wings have played increasingly like a playoff team facing elimination.
The desperation they’ve played with of late had more to do with an impressive home winning streak they didn’t want to end shy of becoming the NHL standard. That goal was accomplished on Tuesday night against the Dallas Stars, whom Detroit beat 3-1 for its 21st straight victory on home ice.
Now, the Wings host the Nashville Predators on Friday night in a bid to extend the mark – and doing so without injured star forward Henrik Zetterberg, veteran forward Danny Cleary and starting goalie Jimmy Howard.
Are they concerned the same level of desperation might not be there as it was before they set the home-winning streak record?
“I think we’re going to be just business as usual,” Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom said following Friday’s morning skate. “We’re trying to get two points. We’re facing a [Central Division] rival, as well, that’s looking to gain points and move up in the standings. I think that’s the approach we’re going to have for tonight’s game.”
That’s a little different than the approach they took prior to the game Tuesday against the Stars, when for the first time during the streak some Wings players talked openly about going for the win to set themselves apart from the 1929-30 Boston Bruins and 1975-76 Philadelphia Flyers – who each won 20 straight home games respectively.
The Wings then backed it up by jumping out to an early 2-0 lead against Dallas in a dominating first period before making it stand up with a strong, passionate defensive effort during the final two periods for the win.
Detroit’s also been without Howard for the last four games in the streak, which means journeyman backup Joey MacDonald has been center stage to help the Wings cap it off. MacDonald’s been outstanding – posting a 1.72 goals-against average and .930 save percentage in six appearances since Howard left the lineup starting Feb. 4 in Edmonton – but there’s no denying the defensive effort in front of him has been playoff-quality.
Will the Predators see that same kind of intensity on Friday night?
“I think you look at the standings and you see how tight it is,” Wings forward Drew Miller said. “We’re fighting for points to stay at the top. We want to stay up there and making this place, Joe Louis, a hard place to play. I don’t think it’s as much about continuing the record as it is about continuing to play well at home.”
According to the Predators, that goal has already been accomplished.
Nashville has watched its division rival string so many home victories together during this streak – including a 4-1 Wings win against them on Nov. 26 – that they can’t help but be impressed by it.
“We talked about it the other day, about them playing great at home so just respect that,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said. “You just respect the streak, but we’ve come in here and played well and gotten games here. To us, it’s a divisional foe. Let’s get after them and see what happens.”
Trotz, however, is quite impressed by the Wings’ record home streak.
“I think it’s one of the great records in the game,” he said. “There isn’t a team in this League where you can just say, ‘Just play [and you’ll win].’ There’s so many good goaltenders who can steal games and so many things that can happen. Then you’ve got travel and we’re in the Western Conference. People can say what they want, but travel beats you up and they’ve [still] done it. More credit to them.”
Speaking of being beat up, the Wings are going through a tough stretch with injuries right now – with Zetterberg’s undisclosed lower-body ailment being the latest hurdle. He participated in Detroit’s optional skate, but wasn’t good enough to play.
Whether he plays on Sunday against the San Jose Sharks is also up in the air.
“It felt a little better,” said Zetterberg, who got hurt on the first shift of the game against Dallas but finished the game and scored the Wings’ first goal. “[It was the] first time I skated since the game. [It’s] still day to day. “I’ll probably practice [Saturday] if it doesn't get any worse tonight. We're just going to wait and see [about playing Sunday). We're doing everything we can with treatment.''
Detroit called up Tomas Tatar from Grand Rapids of the American Hockey League to take Zetterberg’s spot on the active roster, while Justin Abdelkader will likely move to Zetterberg’s position on the ice at center of the second line.
Forwards Patric Hornqvist and Brian McGrattan will also miss the game with upper-body injuries and didn’t make the trip.
Here is a look at how the Predators and Red Wings could line up Friday night:
Sergei Kostitsyn - Mike Fisher - Martin Erat
Gabriel Bourque - David Legwand - Craig Smith
Colin Wilson - Nick Spaling - Brandon Yip
Matt Halischuk - Jerred Smithson - Jordin Tootoo
Ryan Suter - Shea Weber
Roman Josi - Kevin Klein
Francis Bouillon - Ryan Ellis
Johan Franzen - Pavel Datsyuk - Todd Bertuzzi
Valtteri Filppula - Justin Abdelkader - Jiri Hudler
Drew Miller - Darren Helm - Tomas Holmstrom
Tomas Tatar - Cory Emmerton - Jan Mursak
Nicklas Lidstrom - Ian White
Niklas Kronwall - Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson - Jakub Kindl