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Feb. 2: A Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
This week, Pavel Datsyuk and the Red Wings travel to Denver, where they will also play in an outdoor game next season. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT — The Red Wings players welcome their fathers and mentors on this week’s two-game road trip to Colorado and Arizona as the team embarks on another grueling month loaded with away games.

January was the Wings’ most productive month of the season winning nine of 12 games. The power play also enjoyed a productive month, converting 33.3 percent of man-advantage opportunities, helping the team average 3.42 goals per game last month.

While the boost in offense was effective in helping the Wings to a season-long six-game win streak, it came at a bit of a price as defense and the penalty kill had the worst month of the season. A unit that once killed off 25-of-26 penalties to begin the season has now given up a power-play goal in eight of the last nine games and had a bleak 65 percent success rate in January.

Some of the defensive struggles can be credited to the absence of injured goalies Jimmy Howard (groin) who has been out since Jan. 10, and Jonas Gustavsson (shoulder) who has been out since Nov. 5. The good news is that Gustavsson is close to a return after playing for the Grand Rapids Griffins on Saturday, stopping 29-of-32 shots faced in his first game back from injury. The Griffins lost 4-0 to the Milwaukee Admirals but it was an important step for Gustavsson to get back up to game speed as he hadn’t seen action in 87 days. The 30-year-old goaltender can spend up to 14 days with the Wings’ AHL affiliate as part of the CBA but could return to Detroit as soon as he appears ready.

Last month, it was announced that the Wings and Avalanche will take their rivalry outdoors as part of the league's stadium series, playing at Coors Field next Feb. 27. It will be the third outdoor game in eight seasons for the Wings and first for the Avalanche. Thursday’s match-up at the Pepsi Center will be a chance for the Wings to refocus the defensive effort as Colorado averages just 2.50 goals per game and going 9-14-8 against teams currently in playoff position.

With four days between Saturday’s 4-1 win against the New York Islanders and Thursday’s match-up against the Avalanche, the Wings are 5-0-1 on three-or-more days rest this season and haven’t lost in Colorado since Dec. 4, 2011.

While Colorado’s playoff hopes are still intact being four points out of the picture, Arizona has been a different story with just 40 points in the standings tied with the Carolina Hurricanes for 27th in the NHL.

The Coyotes join the Avalanche in the bottom-third of the league giving up more than 30 shots on goal per game, meaning that the Wings should have an ample amount of scoring opportunities against two susceptible defenses. With a 22.1 percent conversion rate, the Coyotes power play has been a ray of brilliance amidst a gloomy season, ranking seventh in the NHL. If the Wings’ penalty killing struggles continue, a few power-play goals by Arizona could be enough to pull off a big upset and spoil the road trip.

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

Matt Duchene

THURSDAY at COLORADO (21-18-11): This will be the second and final regular-season meeting as the Avalanche came into Detroit and defeated the Wings 2-1 in a shootout on Dec. 19. The teams traded third period power-play goals before Jarome Iginla ended the game in the ninth round of the shootout. Colorado is 5-2-3 in the last 10 games and knocking on the door of a second consecutive playoff birth for the first time since 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. With 17 points in the month of January, the Avalanche has made a strong push to contend for a playoff spot after starting the season just 9-10-5. The offense is ranked 23rd in the league but averages almost a full goal more at home (2.96) versus away games (2.04).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Center Matt Duchene’s four-game point streak is the longest of the season for the 24-year-old. For the Avalanche to make a push, Duchene and fellow first round draft picks Gabriel Landeskog and Nathan MacKinnon will have to be much better. Duchene’s 31 points in 50 games this season is 15 points fewer than where he was last season at the same juncture when the Avalanche won the Central Division. Duchene’s recent production is a good sign as the team feeds off of his success going 15-4-5 when the Haliburton, Ont., native records a point.

Keith Yandle

SATURDAY at ARIZONA (17-26-6): The Coyotes closed out a seven-game road trip against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, going 2-3-2 on the trip and will be looking forward to a few homes games in the month of February. Saturday’s game will be the first meeting of the season, as Arizona will play three games in four days beginning with the Wings. Averaging just 1.89 goals per game in their last nine games, the Coyotes have been held to one goal or less 18 times this season. Arizona has lost three of its last four but a matchup against the Wings might not be so bad, as the Coyotes swept the series in 2013-14 with two wins in the first month of the season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Keith Yandle is one of two defensemen in the NHL to lead his team in points, joined by the Calgary Flames Mark Giordano. Yandle’s 34 points ranks eighth among NHL defensemen and his 20 power-play points is tied for third with the likes of Jakub Voracek and Nick Foligno. The 28-year-old has points in seven of the last eight games with two assists against the Canadiens and averages 24:07 of ice time per game. A native of Boston, Mass., Yandle has appeared in 435 consecutive games, which is the third longest active streak in the NHL.

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