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Red Wings, Predators attempting to halt slides

by Matthew Mankiewich
PREDATORS (29-20-3) at RED WINGS (25-19-9)

Last 10 -- Nashville 4-6-0; Detroit 3-4-3

Season series -- Third of six meetings this season. The first two were split on Nashville ice, with the Wings taking the second game in overtime and stopping a four-game losing streak versus the Preds.

Big story --
Just about everyone is neck-and-neck in the playoff races in both conferences, but these two are nosing past each other on the way down. The Wings are trying to avoid a season-high fourth straight loss while the Predators strive to avoid five. With 61 points, Nashville is in seventh place in the Western Conference, while Detroit is just on the outside in ninth, tied with eighth-place Calgary with 59 points, but behind by one win.

Team scope:

Predators -- Unlike their previous four-game slide in the first week of the season where they were outscored 16-2, this time around the games have been tight. Only one of them, a 4-2 loss in Phoenix last Thursday, was decided by more than one goal. The Preds have been outscored only by a 13-8 margin -- although losing to the Blue Jackets in regulation for only the third time in 27 meetings might serve as a wake-up call.

"Something has to be done -- four in a row," forward Steve Sullivan said. "We are starting to feel the heat now from behind us in the standings. We are not as comfortable now as we were a week ago. We have to find a way to get some wins."

"Earlier in the year, our game needed repair," coach Barry Trotz told The Tennessean. "We gave up tons of chances. Our coverages and responsibilities and execution were very poor. That hasn't been the case this time."

Red Wings --
Disappointing as this most recent losing streak is in itself, it's coming at a time when things should be looking up in the Motor City. The injury list is due to shrink with the return of Jason Williams Friday night, Tomas Holmstrom due back Sunday and Johan Franzen cleared to play whenever he's ready, quite possibly before the Olympic break. Unfortunately, things took a step back when Brad Stuart sprained his left shoulder, subject to re-evaluation Thursday. The question has been raised whether the team can stay close enough over the next two weeks to make a serious run at the playoffs.

Tuesday and Wednesday's performances point out why. At home against Phoenix, the Wings blew a third-period lead for the fourth straight game and lost 5-4 in overtime. In Minnesota, they stayed within a goal after two, then broke down in the third period to take a 5-2 loss.

"We gave up two power-play goals. We haven't given up power-play goals like that since our trip to Europe in September or whenever that was," coach Mike Babcock said.

Who's hot --
Sometimes this category might include players who are attracting heat in addition to those generating it. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg each have five points in the last 10 games, prompting Babcock to move Dan Cleary onto their line in place of Todd Bertuzzi, who is one of two Wings who has played every game so far. Stuart is the other.

"We're doing everything we can to put Pav and Z in a position to be successful," Babcock said. "That's nothing against what Bert was doing; it's just, they're not scoring enough."

Preds forward Patric Hornqvist has been rock-steady throughout his team's ups and downs, logging points in 16 out of his last 20 games, and eight of his last 10. Jason Arnott has 14 points in his last 15 games against the Red Wings

Injury report --
With Stuart hurting, news that Andreas Lilja (concussion) has gone 14 days headache-free is especially good. That he didn't get one after Franzen ran him into the boards in practice is even better.

"I had Mule run me (Monday) at practice, and he picked up all his 230 pounds and threw them at me," Lilja said to the Detroit Free Press. “My body hurt, but my head was really good. It felt really good."

On the Nashville side, Trotz said Thursday that forward Wade Belak (foot) is "really questionable," prompting the recall of Andreas Thuresson from Milwaukee. Marcel Goc (upper body) will not play and Joel Ward (groin) made the trip but is unlikely to play.

Stat pack --
Nashville goalie Pekka Rinne is 4-1-1 with a 2.31 goals-against average in six career starts against the Red Wings, winning both starts at Detroit last year. … The Wings have yet to score on Nashville on the power play in two games so far, they scored 10 times with a man advantage in the season series last year.

Puck drop --
"It's been the case of finding a way to lose instead of finding a way to win. It feels like we're right there, but we can't get over that hump to get those two points." -- Red Wings captain Nicklas Lidstrom.

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