The Blue Jackets look to make it three wins in a row on Tuesday night when they welcome the Detroit Red Wings to Nationwide Arena. The Red Wings are no stranger to Columbus, a divisional foe when both teams battled in the Western Conference and in the Jackets’ first playoff appearance in 2009. Now both teams have switched sides to the East, and the Red Wings haven’t missed a beat.
With a streak of 23 consecutive playoff appearances, the Red Wings keep finding new ways to get it done. Legends like Scotty Bowman, Steve Yzerman, and Nicklas Lidstrom gave way to Mike Babcock, Henrik Zetterberg, and Pavel Datsyuk. And while the Red Wings currently sit fourth in a competitive Atlantic Division, they are doing many of the things that keep them in the playoff mix year in and year out.
The Red Wings have played in tight games, perhaps too many as their win total of eight is dampened by their number of overtime losses. The Red Wings have lost five overtime contests, including an 0-3 record in the shootout. Of Detroit’s first 17 games, 13 have been decided by two goals or less. They’re coming off a 4-1 loss in Montreal and have won only four of their past 10 games.
The usual suspects are pacing a Red Wings offense that is scoring largely by committee. Zetterberg leads the team with 17 points but has scored only four goals. Four other players have five goals, and sophomore Gustav Nyquist has eight. Jimmy Howard has had a nice start to the season, going 7-3-4 with a 2.11 goals-against average.
The Blue Jackets are 7-1-1 in their past nine games against Detroit.
The Red Wings came into Columbus last season on Mar. 25 looking to put some space between themselves and the Blue Jackets in the standings. They had no such luck.
The Blue Jackets took down the Red Wings in a 4-2 decision that saw the Blue Jackets snap an 0-for-36 drought on the power play with two first period power play tallies from Ryan Johansen and Brandon Dubinsky. Nyquist responded for the Red Wings with two goals to tie the game headed into the third period.
Curtis McElhinney entered the game in the second period when Bobrovsky left with an illness, and he stood tall allowing one goal on 23 shots. With McElhinney holding down the fort, Cam Atkinson scored the eventual game-winner. Atkinson swatted in a loose rebound as the net was knocked off the mooring, but the officials ruled that the net was forced off by defenseman Brendan Smith. The goal was allowed to stand, and the Blue Jackets would go on to win and tie the Red Wings for the top wild card spot in the East.
One of the explosive young offensive talents in the game, Gustv Nyquist can go off at any moment. He leads the Red Wings with eight goals this season, despite currently laboring through a slump in which he’s scored just one goal and one assist in the past seven games. He scored in the Detroit's first four games to start the season. It’s too early in the 25 year-old sophomore’s career to know whether or not he is a streaky goal-scorer. But if he is, look out for those streaks. Nyquist started last season in the AHL because the Red Wings had no place to put him. Once they called him up in late November, he scored four goals in his first five games and 23 goals in the next 28 games.
Johan Franzen has had a couple of injury-plagued seasons. He missed most of 2010-2011 with a knee injury, he missed half of last season with concussion symptoms, and he’s already missed six games this season with a groin issue. But when Franzen is on the ice, he’s an offensive force and especially on the power play. Franzen has three goals and six points in his past six games, with two of those goals coming on the power play. Franzen has only been held off the score sheet in three games this season - and Babcock has also spoke highly of his defensive game. “The Mule” has a nose for the net and is difficult to move in front. If he can stay healthy, he’ll be a handful for the Jackets defense.
The third period
The Red Wings are a pretty even-keeled team, with very little change in their goal differential from one period to the next. This season, the Red Wings have a +4 differential in the first period, +1 in the second, and +1 in the third. The Blue Jackets have a +5 differential in the second period, but are a -13 in the third. The Blue Jackets have been injured most of the season making defense and goaltending a constantly evolving situation. But with Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell, Ryan Johansen, and Nick Foligno largely healthy, the Blue Jackets have only scored four third period goals in their last nine games, two of those coming in a lopsided loss to Tampa Bay. Against a Detroit team comfortable playing in tight games, Columbus must either find their offense in the final frame or take advantage of their second period strength to build a lead for Sergei Bobrovsky to preserve.