DETROIT -- The Red Wings have gained ground on the Montreal Canadiens and are looking to make it even closer tonight.
The Wings are in second place in the Atlantic Division with 35 points, while the Canadiens are first with 41.
The last time the Wings faced the Canadiens was on Oct. 17 in Montreal, a 4-1 loss.
But the Wings are a different team than they were at that point and so are the Canadiens.
The Wings were muddling around the .500 mark while the Canadiens were in the middle of winning their first nine games.
"They ran away there a little bit at the start, they won every game," Joakim Andersson said. "But we're starting to catch some ground on them. It's two huge points today if we want to catch up on them."
The Canadiens are currently without perhaps their best player in goaltender Carey Price. Also on the shelf are forwards Brendan Gallagher, Torrey Mitchell and Devante Smith-Pelly.
The Wings now have Pavel Datsyuk but are missing Teemu Pulkkinen and Drew Miller.
"Obviously we still think they're a really good hockey team," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I watched them play last night and I thought for two periods they controlled lots of the game, had lots of opportunities to maybe make it 2-0, 3-0. (Tuukka) Rask was real good and then the game just kind of went away from them at the end. We know they're a real good hockey team and we're going to focus on us playing as well as we possibly can every single night to give us our best chance to win."
There are similarities between the two Original Six teams.
"I think when we're playing at our best, we're a pretty quick, fast team and we transition pretty fast," Blashill said. "I think when they're playing their best, they're a quick, fast team. Their D are very involved, their D are a little more active from a shooting sense. Our D have been a little more active from a motion sense. Both D corps can provide offense. I also think structurally they're really good. They make it hard to get to the net, they don't give up lots, they've had obviously real good goaltending, but I think part of that is the structure with which they play."
Plus, with the Original Six match-ups, there is always a little extra excitement in the building.
"It’s always a good game," Tomas Tatar said. "They’ve been playing really good. They’ve been good I think for lots of years now. The game is obviously special. Fans are appreciating, the arena is really loud. I’m really looking forward to tonight’s game."
Blashill said these match-ups are special.
"It’s a special organization as we think ours is as well," Blashill said. "Just look around here this morning. But they’ve also been the best team in the Eastern Conference for the first half of the year so far. I think that helps as well, adds to the excitement. We want to measure ourselves against the best teams in the league and we got a good chance to do it tonight."
JURCO MORE CONFIDENT: It's only natural that a skilled player like Tomas Jurco would feel better about himself when he's contributing offensively.
Against the Washington Capitals Tuesday night, Jurco scored his first goal of the season.
"I think it’s a good thing for me, obviously, and it was an important goal, it gave is a lead, 2-1, so it was a good feeling," Jurco said. "Like I’ve said many times, I just want to work hard and keep playing good."
Jurco is still just 22 years old so the Wings want to be patient with him.
"I think patience for everybody involved, patience for us, patience for him, I think him and I talk lots about the mental toughness that is needed to overcome adversity and the adversity of not playing and getting the opportunities he wants," Blashill said. "He was really young when he came to play for me. A lot of his peers had played that year of junior but because of his age he had to leave junior, so we’re very aware of that. We want to have patience with him. We think there’d a lot to his package. With that said he also has to, every time he gets a chance, grab the spot and grab those opportunities and he did that the other right by scoring."
Jurco was rewarded for going to the net, which remains the plan.
"That’s what they want from me, so like I said, that’s what I’m trying to do it a little more than I used to and I’m happy it worked last game," Jurco said.
In today's NHL, you have to be able to skate and Blashill said Jurco can and should use it to his advantage.
"When Jurcs is the most effective is when he's using his speed, he can skate really well for a guy that's 6-foot-2, when he's tenacious on the puck both from a forecheck standpoint and a tracking standpoint, that's when I think he's at his best," Blashill said. "He's got real good hands, he's got ability to score goals, when he gets pucks in the O-zone he can make real good passes and he can score. But in order to get those pucks, he's got to make sure his skating on the puck is really good."
ANDERSSON GETTING BACK INTO GROOVE: You can practice as much as you want and as hard as you can but it will never be the same as playing in a game.
"When you get out there at game pace, things happen so fast," Joakim Andersson said. "You got to get into the rhythm when you've been gone for a while. It took me a game and then last game I thought I played well again."
Andersson returned to the lineup two games ago after Pulkkinen and Miller were hurt.
It was his first time playing since Nov. 14 at Boston.
"First game was tough to get back, I didn't play for three weeks," Andersson said. "Now, the second game I felt way better. I thought I was able to make more plays and play the game that I should be able to do and that I want to play."
Miller was one of the Wings' most reliable penalty killers so Andersson has to try to fill that role.
"Every game he’s going to keep getting better," Blashill said. "It’s real hard when you haven’t played for a long time, especially when your team hasn’t been practiced much and we haven’t been able to practice much because our schedule has been every other day so then it makes it really hard. Beginning of the year is a little different when you’re not playing because you’re practicing hard every day. We haven’t practice much lately so when you’re not in the lineup it’s hard to replicate. So I think he’ll continue to get better and better and get real comfortable on the penalty kill. He’s got to be a great killer for us and win a lot of face-offs when he’s on the penalty kill."