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Dec. 29: A Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
This week, Tomas Tatar and the Red Wings visit Boston's TD Garden for the first time this season. (Photo by Getty Images)

New year, same mentality.

While the end of 2014 was relatively somber for the Red Wings — losing six of the last eight games with two remaining — the overall attitude in the locker room is not phased going into the new year.

“I don’t think we’ve been playing bad the last few games,” center Riley Sheahan said. “It’s just some bounces here and there that we haven’t been getting. I think it’s just a matter of staying confident and having a positive attitude. You don’t really feel like we’ve been in a slump in the locker room. I think guys are still excited to get back at it.”

Losing and not playing well is one thing, but Sheahan said the team’s record as of late isn’t for lack of effort. Four of the losses have come in a shootout and the Wings have outshot the opponent in four of the six games as well.

To improve on their record in 2015, forward Drew Miller said an emphasis has to be put on what has generated the Wings’ success thus far in the season — strong special teams.

“I think system-wise, we’ve been playing our systems really well,” he said. “We’re in their zone a lot, we’ve just got to get around the net more and get those second and third chances. We’ve done a lot of one and done and we’ve got to execute better on that.”

The power play — ranked fourth in the NHL at 24.1 percent — has displayed its dominance throughout the season having scored 19 power-play goals in a 14-game span. The penalty kill — ranked second in the NHL at 87.9 percent — has impressed as well, eliminating 25 consecutive penalties at one point.

Trying times are a learning experience. While nobody in the locker room is happy with losing six straight games, Sheahan said there are positives that can be taken away from a gloomy record. Struggles are going to happen and every team faces adversity throughout a season. Being able to right the ship and get the team heading back in the right direction will prove that this group can face adversity and come out the other side better for it.

“I think these sort of times in the season make you stronger as a team,” Sheahan said. “If this happens again later in the season we can learn from what we’ve been going through now. I think it definitely helps in a way but we’ve also got to get out of it soon.”

To duplicate those strong special teams performances and get back to the Wings’ winning ways, Miller said the key is to stick to the game plan no matter how frustrating times may become.

“I think we have a lot of positives in our game right now,” he said. “I think just sticking with it, staying with our system, doing the good things that we’ve been doing in games, it’s going to turn around for us. I think we’ve thought we’ve played well but just not good enough.”

And by sticking with it, the Wings were able to break through by scoring five power-play goals in the previous two contests against the Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators. Additionally, the penalty kill eliminated all six shorthanded opportunities as both special teams generated productive numbers. Relying on these tools moving forward will continue to help the Wings through challenging times.

With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:

Patrice Bergeron

MONDAY at BOSTON (18-15-3): The Bruins will open up a three-game home stand as three Atlantic Division opponents come to Beantown, starting with the Wings. This will be the third of five scheduled meetings as the series is currently split at a game apiece. The Bruins are 11-6-2 at TD Garden and rank fifth out of eight teams in the Atlantic Division. The special teams have not been so special, with both the power play and the penalty kills ranking 21st in the NHL in its respective categories but that doesn’t keep the Bruins from coming away with victories. Both the Wings and Bruins rank in the top five among NHL teams in the face-off circle at 54.9 percent and 53.1 percent respectively. So face-off wins and possession could dictate the outcome in Boston.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Center Patrice Bergeron has been one constant on a changing Bruins team. Whether it is an attempt to stay under salary cap or compensating for injuries, Boston has had several moving parts in 2014. With the inconsistency, the team has leaned heavily on the 11-season pro who leads the team in scoring with 27 points. Centering the top forward line, Bergeron is in the top five in power play and penalty kill time on ice among Bruins and leads the way with a team-high 58.2 percent in the faceoff circle. After finishing second in the NHL with a plus-38 rating last season, Bergeron is just a plus-six after 36 games this season, much of that due to the Bruins lack of goal scoring.

Cory Schneider

WEDNESDAY vs. NEW JERSEY (12-18-7): The Devils will usher in the new year by playing four games in six days, a tough stretch for the seventh placed team in the Metropolitan Division. This will be the third and final meeting between these two teams this season as the Wings have won both of the previous matchups. The Devils began the season with 21 of 35 games coming on the road, so an uptick in home games is expected in 2015. New Jersey hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since losing to the Los Angeles Kings in the Stanley Cup finals in 2012 and will have a difficult time changing that streak if the new year doesn’t bring about drastic changes in the win column. Despite just 31 points in the standings and a 28th ranked 2.08 goals per game, the Devils power play is impressive at 20.2 percent which ranks ninth in the league.

PLAYER TO WATCH: No NHL goalie has appeared in more games this season than Cory Schneider. After starting 20 consecutive games from Oct. 9 to Nov. 21 — breaking Martin Brodeur’s record for the longest streak to begin a season in Devils’ history — Schneider has appeared in 33 of the team’s 37 games. The Massachusetts native ranks first among goaltenders that have played in at least 100 games since the start of 2010-11 season with a 2.15 goals-against average and a .925 save-percentage. Schneider played between the pipes in both games against the Wings but was run out early after giving up four goals through the first 40 minutes. He has lost six consecutive games — his worst stretch since last December when he lost five in a row. The veteran goaltender is capable of stealing wins for his team, especially on the road where 10 of his 16 wins have come this season.

Brad Richardson

SATURDAY at VANCOUVER (20-11-2): Absent from the playoffs in 2014 after five consecutive appearances, the Canucks seem to be back to its winning ways. Vancouver will enjoy a five-game home stand as the Wings come to town for the second and final meeting this season. The Canucks are 9-5-1 in Rogers Arena and are tied for fifth in the NHL with 2.94 goals per game. However, the Wings managed to outscore the Canucks in route to a 5-3 victory in November. The Canucks surrendered two power-play goals in that game but since then, the penalty kill has gone 26-of-28 in the nine games that followed. Vancouver can jump on teams quickly as well, posting a 13-2-1 record when scoring the first goal of the game.

PLAYER TO WATCH: The Sedin-Sedin-Vrbata line has combined for 84 points this season but was held off the score sheet in the Canucks’ last meeting with the Wings. Their absence forced the need for secondary scoring as center Brad Richardson’s line generated all three goals for the Canucks. If the Wings are able to keep the Canucks top line at bay yet again, Richardson poses a unique threat and has the ability to put together points in bunches. Richardson has recorded two multi-point games in the month of December, including a three-point night against the Pittsburgh Penguins and a two-point game against the Arizona Coyotes before the holiday break.

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