RED WINGS (35-16-2) at COYOTES (23-21-8)
TV: NBCSP (HD), TSN2
Last 10: Detroit 8-1-1; Phoenix 3-4-3.
Season Series: The Red Wings have taken all three meetings between these teams so far this season, but the wins have been closer than they may seem. Each of the last two on Jan. 12 in Detroit and Jan. 19 at Jobing.com Arena, were decided in a shootout.
Big Story: If Detroit didn't realize the value it had all this season in starting goaltender Jimmy Howard, it's about to. The Wings have already played one game without their top netminder, and have several more to go, which should put quite a bit of pressure on backups Joey MacDonald and Ty Conklin. Detroit's goaltending will be tested Monday when it faces the pesky Coyotes, who are in the thick of the chase for the eighth spot in the West.
Red Wings: Jimmy Howard's 32 wins are the most in the NHL, his 2.03 goals-against average is sixth in the League and his five shutouts are the third most of any goaltender this season. Few have been better than Howard in 2011-12, and that means the Red Wings could be in for a big test after Howard broke a finger during Thursday's 4-3 shootout win in Vancouver. While initial speculation says he could be out for two weeks or more, Detroit has only said he would miss two games before being re-evaluated Tuesday.
To this point, Joey MacDonald tried to fill the role in the first game Howard missed Saturday in Edmonton, but gave up a game-tying score with 39 seconds left before ultimately losing in a shootout 5-4. That loss, of course, isn't the end of the world for Detroit, which has 72 points and currently leads both the competitive Central Division and the entire Western Conference. Still, Howard's injury will loom large, as the Wings try to hold off Vancouver at the top of the West and its divisional rivals.
Coyotes: Phoenix has made a habit in recent seasons of making surprising runs at a postseason berth, but the magic could be running out. The Coyotes are 12th in the West, which only puts them four points behind eighth-place Minnesota, but climbing into that eighth spot would also require hopping over Calgary, Colorado and a Dallas team that has a game in hand on the 'Yotes.
For any reason as to why those hopes might be sliding away look no further than the last two months of the schedule in which Phoenix has struggled tremendously. The Coyotes have won just 5 of their last 18 games, delivering a huge blow to their playoff hopes. There is light at the end of the tunnel, however. Phoenix will face Dallas and Calgary later this week in what are shaping up to be enormous games, and a victory over the conference-leading Wings Monday night would be a nice way to start turning the tide around.
Who's Hot: Ray Whitney isn't looking anything close to his age lately. The 39-year-old has two goals and four assists in his last four games. ... Danny Cleary has a goal and four assists in the last four games for Detroit.
Injury Report: The Coyotes have lost defenseman David Schlemko for the season with foot surgery, but are otherwise healthy. Aside from Howard's sizeable absence, the Wings are healthy with the exception of Patrick Eaves, who has been on IR following jaw surgery since late November.
Stat Pack: Howard's injury does spell trouble, but if there is any good news for the Wings as they look to stay afloat in his absence, it's that 10 of their next 12 games after Monday's visit to the Valley will be at Joe Louis Arena, a building Detroit has gone a remarkable 20-2-1 in this season.
Puck Drop: Considering Howard's injury and the Coyotes' recent struggles, both Detroit and Phoenix will be faced with their own unique and significant challenges Monday night. As they conclude their season series, whomever responds best will see the dividends down the road.