DETROIT – How fortunate do the Red Wings feel to be in the Atlantic Division hunt despite having 13 regulars out of the lineup at one time or another with injuries ranging from sore groins to concussions?
One only has to look to backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson, who hasn’t been immune to the injury bug, but is still enjoying the best season of his NHL career.
“He looks extremely good this year, obviously,” Wings forward Daniel Alfredsson said. “It’s one of those things where obviously being a little bit healthy for a stretch again at the right time and starting off good, with some confidence. But he’s playing poised, he’s aggressive when he needs to be and it looks like he’s comfortable.”
Gustavsson has been comfortable enough to own an 8-2-2 record with a 2.09 goals-against average and .926 save percentage.
The Wings signed the former Maple Leafs’ netminder prior to the lockout-shortened season last year. The plan all along was for Gustavsson to backup the Wings’ No. 1 Jimmy Howard. But last year, Gustavsson began the season with a sore groin, which lingered for most of the campaign. He only appeared in seven games in 2013.
Forwards Darren Helm, Stephen Weiss, Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, and defensemen Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericsson have all missed at least seven games this season. Between a groin and neck injuries, Gustavsson has missed six games, but with Jimmy Howard out for 2-4 weeks with an MCL sprain, the 29-year-old Swede needs to maintain his remarkable level.
“He has been a big story for us,” Wings general manager Ken Holland said. “He gives us a chance to win every night. In this day and age you need to have two goalies going. The days of one guy playing 70 games are over.”
In this an Olympic year, Gustavsson was asked if he had extra motivation to impress Swedish officials to convince them to take him to Sochi, Russia in February.
“I don’t think I need more motivation, I’m just trying to win games but everyone knows it’s a big year,” he said. “I’m just trying to go out there and have fun and compete and try to get some points for our team. Right now that’s the most important thing for me.”
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
TUESDAY – vs. ANAHEIM (22-7-5):
Right Wing - ANA
Goals: 21 | Assists: 15 | Pts: 36
Shots: 126 | +/-: 13
The Ducks begin a four-game swing through the Eastern Conference with road stops against the Devils, Islanders and Capitals before Christmas. … The Ducks’ specialty teams on the road are in the bottom third of the league. Both the penalty kill and power play are rank No. 24, with the road PK struggling at a 76.1 percent (51-of-67) success rate, and the PP at 13.6 percent (8-of-59). … Reunited for the first time since Anaheim’s 2007 Stanley Cup, the line of Dustin Penner, Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry have combined for 22 goals and 20 assists over the last 13 games. Overall, the trio has scored 46 goals and 97 points this season, leading the NHL in combined goals and ranking second in the NHL only to Pittsburgh’s line of Chris Kunitz, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in combined points (114). In addition, Getzlaf and Perry lead the league in goals scored by a duo on the same team (37). They are second in combined points (74) behind only Crosby and Malkin (82).
PLAYER TO WATCH: Perry's 21 goals through 34 games this season are the most in his career. His previous high was 17 in 2007-08. He is currently riding a career-best seven-game goal streak, which is tied for the league’s longest this season, equaling St. Louis’ Alexander Steen and Tampa Bay’s Steven Stamkos. Since the start of the 2010-11 season, Perry has scored 28 game-winning goals, leading the NHL in that span. In addition, Perry ranks fourth in the NHL in goals (181) since the start of 2008-09, only trailing Alex Ovechkin, Stamkos and Patrick Marleau. … Perry has also produced 15 goals and 23 points in his last 19 games. He ranks third among league leaders in goals and tied for sixth in points. ... Perry and Getzlaf are tied atop of the league with six game-winning goals this season.
THURSDAY – vs. CALGARY (13-15-4):
Center - CGY
Goals: 9 | Assists: 19 | Pts: 28
Shots: 53 | +/-: E
This is the second and final meeting of the year between these former Western Conference rivals. In the first game at the Scotiabank Saddledome, the Red Wings built a two-goal lead in the third period before hanging on for a 4-3 victory on Nov. 1. … Calgary has a 7-3-2 record versus the Eastern Conference this season and is 3-3-0 against the Atlantic Division after posting a 2-1 overtime victory at Buffalo on Saturday afternoon. … Calgary has been in 21 one-goal games this season, posting an 11-6-4 record. Its 11 wins ties them for the league-lead for one-goal victories with Anaheim and Los Angeles. … The Flames are tied with Carolina for the league lead in short-handed goals as five different players – Lee Stempniak (two), Matt Stajan, Lance Bouma, Blair Jones, and Mikael Backlund – have scored. Stajan and Stempniak are tied for the lead with three short-handed points. Stajan is tied for the lead with two short-handed assists and Stempniak is tied for the league lead with two SHG.… Goalie Karri Ramo has stopped 131-of-138 shots for a .949 save percentage in his last six outings. He is 4-1-0 in his last five starts allowing one goal in each of the four wins.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The Flames have been victimized by injuries this season. Though one of the guys who hasn’t been bitten is former Red Wings forward Jiri Hudler, who is one of five Flames to have appeared in each game this year. Hudler has certainly revitalized his career in Calgary. The Wings’ former second-round draft pick in 2002, he has 29 goals and 55 points in 74 games since signing a four-year deal worth $16 million with the Flames in July 2012. Hudler leads the Flames by a large margin in assists (19) and points (28). He started the season on a nine-game point streak, compiling four goals and eight assists. Hudler has had seven two-point games this season, including a two-assist night in the Flames’ 4-3 loss to Detroit last month.
SATURDAY – at TORONTO (17-14-3):
Right Wing - TOR
Goals: 16 | Assists: 15 | Pts: 31
Shots: 133 | +/-: 3
This game is special for a couple of obvious reasons besides being a precursor to the Winter Classic that will be played outdoors at Michigan Stadium in two weeks. This game also marks the first time in 18 seasons the Wings and Leafs begin a divisional rivalry. … Unlike the Red Wings, the Leafs have succeeded at home where they have posted an 11-7-0 record despite a penalty kill that has surrendered a league-worst 16 goals. The third period has been a problem for the Leafs who have allowed 39 games in 34 games. Only Calgary (42) has allowed more third-period goals. … Without their first and second line centers, the Leafs have struggled lately, dropping three of four and going 3-5-2 in their last 10 games. Injuries to centers Dave Bolland (ankle) and Tyler Bozak (oblique) have disrupted the Leafs’ offensive structure. Still, the Leafs own the best home power play in the league, registering 18 goals on 54 chances (33.3 percent) at the Air Canada Centre. Cody Franson is tied for second among league defensemen for power-play points with a goal and 11 assists. Franson also leads all league defensemen with 110 hits while Carl Gunnarsson is No. 6 in blocked shots (81). … Center Trevor Smith made his Maple Leafs debut on Oct. 8 to become the 900th player to appear in at least one game in franchise history. To date, 906 players (817 skaters, 89 goaltenders) have played for the Maple Leafs. Meanwhile, 888 players (799 skaters, 89 goalies) have played for the Wings’ organization, including left wings Gilles Dube
(1954) and Doug McKay
(1950), right wing Gord Haidy
(1950) and goalie Bob Champoux
(1964) who only appeared in the playoffs. … The Red Wings own a 275-273-93-3 (W-L-T-OTL) all-time record against the Leafs.
PLAYER TO WATCH: A pure scorer, Wisconsin native Phil Kessel has points in eight of his last nine games, producing four goals and six assists during that stretch. The Red Wings are among four league teams that Kessel has more points than games played against. The Leafs’ left winger has seven points in six career games against Detroit. He’s also produced more points than games played against Anaheim, Edmonton and Los Angeles. … It’s been a milestone kind of year for the Leafs sniper as he reached career numbers for goals (200) and points (400). He also played in his 300th game in a Maple Leafs uniform after he played his first three seasons with Boston.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose