RED WINGS (21-12-1) at PREDATORS (18-13-4)
Detroit 5-5-0; Nashville 6-4-0
The Wings and Predators have split two meetings so far this season, with Nashville taking the most recent matchup, 4-3, on Dec. 15 at Bridgestone Arena.
As Detroit and Nashville pick back up from the two-day Christmas break, there is plenty of work to do. While each team is in the West's top eight, they are clinging to playoff position, holding just a four and one-point advantage over ninth-place Calgary, respectively.
Fewer teams in the NHL seem to enjoy home more than Detroit. The Red Wings boast an impressive 13-2-1 record at Joe Louis Arena, but the converse of that is their road record, 8-10-0, is lacking by comparison. Detroit would do well to try and even out those hedges when it gets back to action from the Christmas break Monday night in Nashville, but the promise of home sweet Joe will be on the horizon as the Wings wrap up a four-game road trip.
That must be particularly refreshing for Detroit, which has lost five of its last seven away from Michigan, and given the tight nature of the West playoff race the Wings have little margin for error both above and below them. Detroit is barely in the West's top eight, a position that any slump could jeopardize, but on the other end of the spectrum, Central-leading Chicago is only five points up on the Wings, who also have a game in hand on their rival.
Nashville was one of the most promising teams in the League at the start of this season and its hopes took a massive tumble when the team recently lost seven of nine games, but Barry Trotz's charges are nothing if not resilient. The Predators have bounced back to take six of their last eight games and five straight at home. While the Preds still face a steep eight-point deficit between them and the first-place Blackhawks, they have at least climbed back into playoff position.
Perhaps more important for Nashville, however, might be the opportunity to establish a mental edge over the rival Red Wings. The two teams will always have their divisional rivalry in the mix, but with postseason futures also in the balance, these games become that much more important. Considering Nashville rallied from a 3-1 deficit to take the last meeting between the teams, there is considerable opportunity to grab the reins of the rivalry with another victory.
Who's Hot: Shea Weber
is earning his money on the Nashville blue line. The reigning Norris Trophy-winner has two goals and six assists in his last five games. ... Drew Miller
might be on the verge of breaking out for Detroit. Miller only has seven goals on the season, but four have come in the last four games.
The Red Wings lost Chris Conner
to a broken bone in his right hand in mid-December. He is expected to miss at least a few more days before returning. Kevin Klein
is questionable for Nashville with flu-like symptoms.
The Red Wings may be third in the Central Division, but that placement seems a result of bad luck more than anything else. Detroit's +33 goal differential is the best in the Western Conference.
It's harder to find two teams in the NHL with more consistent playoff participation than these two, but given slumps both have endured, as well as the logjam in the West, it's easy to see how either team could slip out of the mix in the second half with a few bad bounces. With Monday being a virtual four-pointer between the two, the stakes are that much higher.