The Detroit Red Wings have so far put together yet another outstanding season, but they find themselves in the midst of their worst slide of 2008-09 as February opens.
The defending Stanley Cup champions look to break a season-high five-game losing streak in Monday night's home matchup with the St. Louis Blues.
A winner of seven straight Central Division titles, Detroit (31-11-7) is again atop the Central entering their first game of the new month. However, the Red Wings have seen a 12-point lead over second-place Chicago - which they built with an 8-0-1 stretch from Dec. 30-Jan. 15 - cut to seven by going 0-4-1 since.
Saturday's 4-2 defeat at Washington has Detroit on the verge of its longest slide since an 0-5-1 skid from Feb. 7-17, 2008.
"Any time you're not winning on a regular basis, there are things you've got to do better," coach Mike Babcock said. "All in all, from goaltending to playing better defense to penalty kills to more offense, we've got to do better."
Babcock's club has struggled in every area during its skid. Detroit leads the Western Conference with 179 goals, but has been held to 14 during the losing streak.
The Red Wings have also allowed 23 goals over the last five games after giving up 16 in the previous nine, and the goaltending hasn't helped. Chris Osgood has compiled a 5.08 goals-against average in losing his last three starts, while Ty Conklin - Saturday's starter - has allowed 10 goals on 64 shots in his previous three.
The Red Wings hope a return home will help them get back on track, as they've won seven of their last eight at Joe Louis Arena. Detroit played seven of its previous eight games on the road.
Detroit will be facing a St. Louis team that's won two in a row on the road, but is 3-9-0 in its last 12 away games. The Blues (20-24-4) are 8-21-2 with one tie at Joe Louis Arena since Dec. 31, 1997.
The Blues have lost four of the last five meetings with the Red Wings overall, falling 4-3 at home Oct. 22 and 4-1 in Detroit on Dec. 23.
Despite entering this matchup last in the West with 44 points, however, St. Louis has won three of four and is 4-1-1 in its last six.
While the Wings have suffered from shaky goaltending of late, Chris Mason has keyed the Blues' run. He's 3-1-0 with a 1.30 GAA in his last four games and posted his second shutout in three contests Saturday, 4-0 over visiting Philadelphia.
"I'm feeling pretty good and the guys are doing a great job in front of me," said Mason, who made 36 saves in his 15th career shutout. "They're blocking shots, letting me see pucks, clearing rebounds, letting me know where pucks are. I think it's a combination of everyone kind of getting better as we go here."
Mason hasn't faced the Wings in 2008-09. He's 4-4-1 with a 2.98 GAA in nine career games against them.
If Mason gets the likely start Monday, he'll look to cool down Pavel Datsyuk. The Wings forward has four goals and seven assists during a five-game point streak versus the Blues, giving him 48 career points versus St. Louis - his highest total against any opponent - in 39 games.
Datsyuk leads Detroit with 39 assists and 58 points.
Linemate Henrik Zetterberg, who signed a 12-year, $73 million contract Wednesday, has 16 goals and 22 assists in 32 games against the Blues. However, he's missed the last two games and is day-to-day with back spasms.