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Feb. 16: A Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings

Canadiens goalie Carey Price remains near the top of most statistical categories this season, including wins, goals-against average and save percentage. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT — The Red Wings face some of the NHL’s top offensive teams this week as they take on the Montreal Canadiens at home before going on the road to face the Chicago Blackhawks and Dallas Stars.

Putting the puck in the net hasn’t been an issue for the Wings who average 3.7 goals per game for the last 10 games but keeping it out of the net has become a concern for coach Mike Babcock.

“Well, we’ve gotta keep it out of our net, for sure,” Babcock said. “We can’t give up so many goals. We gotta take care of the puck better.”

Bit by costly turnovers, Babcock said the team had a lot going their way against Winnipeg Saturday night but a few mistakes can turn the tides quickly.

Facing the Atlantic Division-leading Canadiens will be a task, but to follow it up with two of the league’s top scoring offenses in Chicago and Dallas won’t be an easy feat either. With an emphasis on keeping the puck out of the net and limiting turnovers, the Wings first come to a head with the Canadiens who have already defeated them twice this season.

“They do it well and they don’t mind being in their zone, they don’t mind being outshot, they don’t mind any of those things,” Babcock said. “They just play and they wait for their chances and when they get their chances, they score good.”

Despite scoring 52 goals on the road — only the Buffalo Sabres have scored fewer with 45 — the Canadiens simply find ways to win with a 16-8-1 record. The Wings haven’t had an answer for their Original Six opponent, going 2-3-1 in two seasons against them. Having lost back-to-back games for the first time since Dec. 19-21, ending the short skid will be a challenge on Monday at Joe Louis Arena.

Follow that up with two teams that rank in the top 10 in the league in scoring and the Wings have their work cut out for them. The Blackhawks average 2.9 goals per game while Patrick Kane — the league leader with 63 points — and Jonathan Toews lead a team that has seven players who have already surpassed the 30-point mark. Winless in their last five attempts at the United Center, the Wings will look for their first win in Chicago since Jan. 8, 2012 and will have to contain a balanced Blackhawks offense.

While the Blackhawks sit comfortably in a Western Conference playoff position, the Stars must battle as they’re five points out of the picture. Desperate teams are dangerous teams and the Stars — who score the second-most goals in the NHL at 3.09 per game — are fully capable of stealing points from the Wings. Dallas has given up 121 goals while playing 5 on 5, so if the Wings limit penalties and turnovers while playing even-strength or better hockey, they should be able to control the rate of play.

An emphasis on making smart plays with the puck and limiting the opponent’s chances by avoiding turnovers, Babcock said the formula for this week is simple.

“It’s hard to be organized when you turn the puck over,” Babcock said. “You have a team, because you’re playing good and you’re on top of them, they don’t look that quick. Suddenly, you turn the puck over and they look like they’re ultra-fast. Taking care of the puck is a big part of what we have to do right. We didn’t do it right (last game) and we didn’t end up getting the points we needed.”

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

Andrei Markov

MONDAY vs. MONTREAL (36-15-4): The Canadiens come to Detroit for the first of four games in six days. Montreal won the previous two meetings with the Wings, first in a defensive effort on Oct. 21 with a 2-1 victory in overtime at the Belle Centre. On Nov. 16, Montreal overwhelmed the Wings with offense winning 4-1 despite recording just 19 shots on net. One of the hottest teams in the league, the Canadiens sit atop the Atlantic Division going 7-2-1 in the past 10 games. The power play doesn’t pose much of a threat ranking 25th in the NHL at 16.6 percent but the penalty kill has been stellar lately, killing off the last 10 penalties and going 17-of-19 in the last nine games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Defenseman Andrei Markov had a four-game point streak snapped in Saturday’s 2-1 shootout win, his 25 assists is second on the team and 32 points is tied for fifth. Skating alongside P.K. Subban, the Canadiens’ top defensive pair has combined for 11 points in the last five games and has generated plenty of offense from the back end. Markov (16) and Subban (14) are first and second on the team in power-play points so if the offense is to have any success on the man advantage, it will stem from the blue line.

Marian Hossa

WEDNESDAY at CHICAGO (35-18-4): In the midst of the season’s longest home stand, the Blackhawks have played four straight at the United Center and will play four more beginning with the Wings. The Blackhawks are 18-7-3 at home and haven’t lost in regulation since the Dallas Stars came in and defeated them 6-3 on Jan. 18. Chicago has outshot its opponent in 39-of-57 games and it has led to success, but when they fail to do so the team is just 9-7-0 including a 4-1 loss to the Wings on Nov. 14, when they outshot the Blackhawks 37-26. At 87.9 percent, Chicago claims the NHL’s best penalty kill and has killed off 13-of-14 in the last eight games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Marian Hossa scored seven goals in a four-game stretch last week, which brought his season total to 17 tying him with Brandon Saad for second on the team. Hossa is closing in on his 14th 20-goal season and has recorded 12 multi-point games including four in a row last week. The 36-year-old was held without a shot in his last game against the Wings but that has only happened twice in 57 games this season, so containing Hossa is no easy feat. The Blackhawks are 9-1-2 when Hossa records a goal and with seven goals in February already, he is off to his most productive month of the season.

Jamie Benn

SATURDAY at DALLAS (26-22-8): The Stars will play their ninth back-to-back series of the season as they play the Wings and Minnesota Wild on consecutive nights. Dallas has a 4-2-2 record in the first game of back-to-backs and will be looking to avenge a 5-2 loss to the Wings from early December. Three first-period goals propelled the Wings that night but that was against rookie goaltender Jussi Rynnas who made just his fifth career NHL start. The Wings will most likely see Kari Lehtonen, the Stars’ No. 1 goaltender who is 5-1-1 in his last six starts with a .938 save percentage and 2.26 goals against average. However, the Wings have won five in a row and haven’t lost to the Stars in Dallas since Oct. 14, 2010.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jamie Benn scored his second shorthanded goal of the season on Friday in the Stars’ 2-0 win over the Florida Panthers, it was his team’s ninth shorthanded goal which is the most in the NHL. Benn has points in three consecutive games for the fifth time this season and leads the team with 32 assists. With the team’s leading scorer, Tyler Seguin, out due to a knee injury suffered on Friday, the Stars will depend on Benn and Jason Spezza to carry the offense. Seguin is tough to replace as his 59 points is third in the league but Benn isn’t too far off with 19 goals and 51 points.

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