BLUE JACKETS (4-10-2) AT RED WINGS (7-6-3)
JOE LOUIS ARENA | DETROIT, MI
7:30 P.M. TONIGHT
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO (HD) | RADIO: 97.1 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM
One of the more thrilling moments of the Red Wings' season came last weekend at Joe Louis Arena in the waning seconds of a game against the Los Angeles Kings. With goaltender Jonathan Quick at the bench for an extra attacker, Kings defenseman Alec Martinez tied the game in the final minute and it looked as if the game was headed for overtime.
But then, it hit the fan. On the last shift of regulation, Red Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson sent a slap shot through traffic for the game-winner with less than five seconds to play. It was a dramatic and exciting moment for the Red Wings, who had struggled to establish any semblance of consistency, and could have been a springboard for the rest of the month. For whatever reason, it turned out to be the exact opposite.
Detroit has lost four straight games entering tonight's game against the Blue Jackets, and the last three haven't been pretty. The Red Wings were outworked on home ice by the red-hot Anaheim Ducks in a 5-2 loss on Feb. 15, and two nights later in Minnesota, held a 2-0 lead before the Wild erupted for a three-goal second period that was the difference in the hockey game. Nashville's Shea Weber scored 46 seconds into overtime on Tuesday night to cap off a wild 4-3 victory at Bridgestone Arena, in a game that Jimmy Howard started but didn't finish after leaving with blurry vision.
While they've dealt with injuries both on defense and at forward, the consistency is what has concerned coach Mike Babcock so far this season. The Red Wings have played complete, dominant games (a 5-1 win in St. Louis earlier this month is an example) and on other nights have been unpredictable and ineffective. One thing he hasn't had to worry about, though, is the production of his top players.
Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and rookie winger Damien Brunner have been Detroit's most dangerous offensive players in the first 16 games. The trio has combined for 20 goals and 50 points and has carried a significant portion of the team's offensive output while players like Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula have experienced slower starts than they're accustomed to.
The Red Wings began the year thin on the blue line but injuries made their situation even more dire. They had to sign free agent Kent Huskins mid-season and have call-up Brian Lashoff contributing minutes, and it's led to a less-than-desirable defensive stature: only three teams (Calgary, Columbus and St. Louis) have given up more goals than Detroit's 48 allowed so far, and for a team that has been so committed defensively over the years, it's hindering their ability to put win streaks together.
- Jonas Gustavsson, signed by the Red Wings to be Jimmy Howard's backup, was activated off IR and recalled from a conditioning assignment in Grand Rapids earlier this week. Detroit had rookie Petr Mrazek in net for two starts, and the youngster played well in his first NHL win against the Blues.
- Artem Anisimov, sidelined with a lower body injury suffered in Los Angeles, was questionable for Monday's game in Anaheim but is expected to return to the Blue Jackets' lineup tonight in Detroit. Cam Atkinson was activated off injured reserve on Wednesday and will also play against the Red Wings.
- Sean Collins, recalled from Springfield in the wake of Brandon Dubinsky's injury (Dubinsky was placed on IR Wednesday), played over 15 minutes in his NHL debut in Anaheim and skated on a line with RJ Umberger and Derick Brassard.
- In the last meeting between these two clubs at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 2, the Blue Jackets scored on both special teams and got a pair of goals from Anisimov in a 4-2 victory. The next matchup in the season series is a March 9 matinee start (2 p.m.) at Nationwide Arena.
- The Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Wild Wings have announced a new multiyear partnership that is highlighted by a series of social media events to be hosted at central Ohio Buffalo Wild Wings locations during eight upcoming Blue Jackets road games. The first event will take place at the Dublin restaurant on Thursday, February 21 starting at 7:30 p.m. when the Blue Jackets visit the Detroit Red Wings. READ MORE
LEFT WING | #24
2013 STATS: 7-4-11, 15 GP
It's becoming quite clear why so many NHL teams were interested in signing Brunner out of Switzerland last season. The 26-year-old possesses top-end playmaking ability and can finish plays off, as well, and he scored a highlight-reel shootout winner on opening night in Columbus. Brunner is tied for the team lead in goals (7) with Datsyuk and has adjusted well to the North American game in his rookie campaign. Playing with stars like Zetterberg and Datsyuk always helps accelerate the learning curve, as well.
COLUMBUS: Brandon Dubinsky (lower body), day-to-day
DETROIT: Johan Franzen (IR), Todd Bertuzzi (IR), Darren Helm (back), Carlo Colaiacovo (collar bone), Brendan Smith (shoulder), Mikael Samuelsson (hand)