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Feb. 23: A Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
The Red Wings are 1-4-1 in their last six games in San Jose against Joe Pavelski and the Sharks. (Photo by Getty Images)

Opening up the eight-day road trip with a 13-goal overtime thriller in Dallas wasn’t in the forecast but with games against three California teams and first-place Nashville, the Red Wings will need that offensive momentum to carry them through the week.

With back-to-back games for the first time since Jan. 6-7, the Wings will take on Anaheim and Los Angeles Monday and Tuesday. Taking on two of the Western Conference’s top teams won’t be an easy feat on short rest, so defenseman Niklas Kronwall said keeping the approach simple will be key.

“Sticking to the game plan,” he said. “I know it’s all clichés, but it is, just stick to the game plan and doing the little things right. We try to take some pride in it here. For the most part it’s been going good. It doesn’t always have to be flashy, it’s just doing it shift after shift.”

Kronwall picked up his eighth multi-point game of the season with a goal and an assist Saturday. His 33 points is most among Wings’ defensemen and fifth on the team as they look to close out the last long road trip of the season.

With four games in six days, the Wings will have just nine road games remaining on the regular-season schedule after Saturday afternoon’s game in Nashville. That has to be quite a relief given that the team has played just six of the last 19 games at Joe Louis Arena, but Kronwall said the team must take the schedule one day at a time.

“I don’t think anyone thinks about that,” he said. “Tomorrow will be another game on the road. We can’t really think about the next one after that down the road.”

All four opponents this week are in contention for a playoff spot, which means points in the standings won’t come easy. Keeping the game plan simple, as Kronwall said, and doing what the Wings do best — special teams — will be the difference.

None of the California teams, nor the Predators, have a penalty kill unit in the top 10 in the league, which leaves the door open for the Wings’ top ranked power play to continue their dominance and dictate the outcome. It won’t be easy though, as they will face a stout list of goaltenders, including the Kings’ Jonathan Quick and the Predators’ Pekka Rinne who have been some of the best in the league in this month.

The Ducks and Sharks on the other hand, have deep, balanced offensive attacks that can strike from any one of their four forward lines. The Ducks have six players with double digits in goals, including Ryan Getzlaf, who is 11th in the league with 57 points. Similarly, the Sharks have seven players with double digits in goals, including Joe Pavelski whose 14th in the league with 55 points.

Separated from distractions with only teammates and coaches, a week of isolation might be a good bonding experience for the Wings as the regular season starts to wind down and road trips become a bit more limited.

“Anytime you’re on the road for that length of time, definitely,” Kronwall said. “It’s a good time to be on the road. Gets the group together even more, really mold things together. It’s a big stretch for us.”

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

Ryan Getzlaf

MONDAY at ANAHEIM (37-16-7): Leading the Pacific Division by 12 points, the Ducks’ 81 points trails only Nashville for most in the league. Lately, the Ducks have struggled going just 5-4-1 in February and given up 3.66 goals per game in the last 12 contests. John Gibson, a 21-year-old rookie goaltender, has been the go-to guy in the Ducks’ last five outings with a .907 save percentage and 2.82 goals against average in that span. Scoring goals hasn’t been as much of a concern for the Ducks, as they rank ninth in the NHL with 2.85 goals per game — one spot behind the Wings at 2.93 — and have scored five-or-more goals in 10 games this season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Center Ryan Getzlaf scored the game-winning goal in the third period of a 2-1 win at Edmonton on Saturday. It was his second goal in as many games, giving Getzlaf goals in consecutive games for the fourth time this season. The 6-foot-4, 218-pound Getzlaf scored two goals against the Wings including a last-minute game-winning goal to give the Ducks a 3-2 victory at Joe Louis Arena on Oct. 11. Getzlaf has a knack for scoring when it matters most as 11 of his 19 goals have either tied the game or given the Ducks a lead, and he has points in 26 of the team’s 37 wins this season.

Jeff Carter

TUESDAY at LOS ANGELES (28-18-12): The Kings moved into third place in the Pacific Division with a 2-1 win over San Jose in an outdoor game Levi’s Stadium on Saturday. The win was the Kings seventh in a row as they make a late push for a hotly contended playoff spot with six Western Conference teams separated by four points. The Kings have leaned heavily on Quick, who has started in net for the last 14 consecutive games. It is the longest stretch of his career, but Quick could see a night off this week as the Kings play four games in six days. That would open the door for backup Martin Jones, who hasn’t made an appearance since Jan. 14, when he was pulled in the third period of a 5-3 loss to the New Jersey Devils.

PLAYER TO WATCH: With an assist on Anze Kopitar’s game-winning goal on Saturday, Jeff Carter extended his season-long point streak to six games. Carter has four goals and 10 points in that span and leads the Kings with 46 points this season. The 6-foot-4, 212-pound center was held scoreless in the Kings’ 5-2 loss to the Wings on Oct. 31, but a game at home may produce better results for Carter. In 31 home games, Carter has 13 goals and 34 points with a plus-16 rating versus five goals and 12 points with a minus-10 rating in road games this season.

Brent Burns

THURSDAY at SAN JOSE (30-23-8): The Sharks are the only team yet to play the Wings this season and will come to Detroit one month after Thursday’s matchup. The Sharks are 10-2-1 in regular-season meetings against the Wings going back to 2010-11, but may not be as fortunate this time around. San Jose has lost its last five home games and has a 14-11-5 record this season at the SAP Center. February has been the Sharks most challenging month, giving up 3.36 goals per game and allowing four-or-more goals six times in 11 games. The Sharks come into this game on a rare four days of rest. The last time they had a stretch that long was coming out of the All Star break when the Sharks defeated the Ducks 6-3 on Jan. 29.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Brent Burns scored his 16th goal of the season in the Sharks’ 2-1 loss to the Kings. He is second among NHL defensemen in goals and third in points with 45, which is three points shy of his career high. Burns leads the Sharks in time on ice, averaging 24:14 per game and is a big, versatile defenseman who makes his presence felt with 121 hits and 85 blocked shots in addition to his offensive production. The 6-foot-5, 230-pound Burns has five goals in the last seven games, two of which have come on the power play.

Pekka Rinne

SATURDAY at NASHVILLE (39-13-7): With 85 points prior to Sunday’s game against the Buffalo Sabres, the Predators sit atop the entire league in the standings. Success at home has had a lot to do with that, as the Preds are 25-3-1, including nine wins in their last 10 at Bridgestone Arena. The Wings jumped out with a three-goal first period to help defeat Nashville 5-2 on Jan. 17, and may need a similar start in this one, as the Predators are 22-1-4 when scoring the game’s first goal. With strong defense and goaltending, the Predators are tied for second allowing 2.29 goals per game and the emergence of rookie center Filip Forsberg has sparked a well-balanced offense as seven Predators have reached the 30-point plateau.

PLAYER TO WATCH: In his seventh season as starting goaltender for the Predators, Rinne leads the NHL with 34 wins and is second in both save percentage (.931) and goals against average (2.01). Rinne was three wins shy of 200 for his career prior to Sunday’s matchup against the Sabres and could reach that mark this week with three games on the schedule. Rinne was out with a sprained knee when the Preds lost to the Wings in January, but should come into the rematch strong as he has a 5-2-1 record with a .931 save percentage and 2.22 goals against average since returning from his injury.

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