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Jan. 27: Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Tomas Tatar collected his first two-goal game of his career in a 6-2 loss to the Flyers at Joe Louis Arena on Dec. 4. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – Despite Sunday’s disappointing shootout loss to the visit Florida Panthers, the short-handed Red Wings managed to get seven of an available 10 points in a five-game homestand that keeps them in the Eastern Conference hunt.

“I’m pleased to be honest with you. If you had told me before the homestand we were going to do that I would have said great,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “Maybe it’s easier to not be as critical when you have so many young guys, but the reality is I think our group’s making progress. I like what I see from our guys.”

It’s that competitiveness and work ethic – particularly from young guns like centers Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening, and forward Tomas Jurco – that is a double-edge sword, and will make it very difficult on Babcock and general manager Ken Holland who will have to make some roster decisions before the Red Wings play at Philadelphia and host Washington this week.

The Sheahan line, with Jurco and Tomas Tatar, was spectacular last week, gaining more and more responsibility and respect from the coaching staff for their high-revving engines and determination.

“What we’re going to do is talk about it and the best guys are going to play,” Babcock said. “It’s not going to have anything to do with age, it’s just going to be what have you done here lately. They’re pushing real hard. Riley Sheahan, Tats, Jurco, that line was really good. I thought (Darren) Helm was really good (Sunday), too. He had some jump. Those two groups were our best lines.”

In each of the last four games, a previously-injured player has returned to the Red Wings’ lineup with Helm, Jonathan Ericsson, Daniel Alfredsson and Johan Franzen coming back.

In order to make room for Franzen’s return on Sunday, the Red Wings assigned veteran forward Mikael Samuelsson to their minor-league affiliate in Grand Rapids. Still, the Red Wings will be faced with further personnel decisions when Pavel Datsyuk (lower body), Henrik Zetterberg (back) and Joakim Andersson (lower body) return. All three are day to day.

Statistically speaking, the kids won’t make it easy for the team’s decision-makers to dissolve their line. Sheahan has four points in his last four games; Tatar has three points in his last three games; and Jurco has two points in three games. But Tatar is the only one of the trio who is permanently on the Wings’ roster as he can’t be returned to the minors without first clearing waivers.

“We know each other well, all three of us are really skilled, fast, young guys,” Tatar said. “We have lots of energy and I think we playing good right now and we have to keep playing better and better and hopefully those guys can stay here as long as they can and I think so far they prove that they belong, or they’ve won, they will be in the NHL so just the whole line have to play good and try help the team to win every game.”

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

Claude Giroux
Center  - PHI
Goals: 15 | Assists: 32 | Pts: 47
Shots: 144 | +/-: -3
TUESDAY – at PHILADELPHIA (25-22-6): This is the third and final regular-season game against the Flyers, who were 3-for-3 on the power play in a 6-3 win Dec. 4 at Joe Louis Arena. The Red Wings posted three power-play goals of their own to fuel a 5-2 win over Philadelphia on Oct. 12. The Wings have a 13-37-11-0 all-time record at Philadelphia. … The Flyers are now a team running out of confidence. Currently on a four-game losing streak, the Flyers struck a sour note in Saturday’s 6-1 home loss, which caused captain Claude Giroux to call it, “the most embarrassing game I’ve been involved with.” Giroux has 10 goals and 26 points in the last 21 games, while Jakub Voracek has recorded nine goals 23 points in the last 22 games. He’s had multi-point games in eight of those contests. … After missing 16 games with a knee injury, defenseman Erik Gustavsson returned Saturday. Defenseman Nicklas Grossman has blocked the fourth most shots (129) in the league this season. … The Flyers have had five players who will represent their countries in the Sochi Olympics, they are: Michael Raffl (AUT), Mark Streit (SUI), Jakub Voracek (CZE), Andrej Meszaros (SVK) and Kimmo Timonen (FIN).

PLAYER TO WATCH: Giroux is among the league’s power-play point leaders this season, producing five goals and 16 assists to lead the Flyers’ No. 18 ranked power play. His 16 power-play assists is tied with Pittsburgh’s Evgeni Malkin for sixth in the league. A former first-round draft pick, Giroux is three power-play goals shy of reaching his single-season best when he scored eight times in each 2009-10 and 2010-11. In seven career games against the Red Wings, Giroux has produced three goals and three assists, including a power-play goal.

Alex Ovechkin
Right Wing  - WSH
Goals: 36 | Assists: 15 | Pts: 51
Shots: 266 | +/-: -13
FRIDAY – vs. WASHINGTON (23-21-8): The Capitals snapped a season-long seven-game losing streak in fine fashion Saturday when they cruised to a 5-0 victory at Montreal’s Molson Centre. That was Washington’s third win in its last 14 games. The win also represented a milestone for ormer Red Wings forward Adam Oates, who picked up his 50th coaching win in his 100th career game as a NHL bench boss. Nicklas Backstrom leads the league with 23 power-play assists and 27 power-play points. He has earned an assist on nine of Alex Ovechkin’s 13 power-play goals this season. … Ovechkin (RUS), Backstrom (SWE) and John Carlson (USA) were selected to represent their respective countries at the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, Russia.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Ovechkin has six goals and 10 points in his last 10 games. Going back to last season, the Caps’ captain has scored 59 goals in his last 71 regular-season games. This season, he ranks first in the league in goals (36), power-play goals (13) and shots (260), tied for third in power-play points (24) and tied for 13th in points (51). … Since entering the league in 2005-06, Ovechkin leads the league in several offensive categories, including goals (407), points (786), power-play goals (140), power-play points (306), and game-winning goals (64). He also leads the NHL in shots on goal (266), a category that he has led in each season that he’s been in the league.

John Carlson
Defense  - WSH
Goals: 9 | Assists: 9 | Pts: 18
Shots: 146 | +/-: E
SUNDAY – at WASHINGTON (23-21-8): The Caps will play on Super Bowl Sunday for the fourth time in five seasons, hosting the Wings at 12:30 p.m., thus giving fans time to get home for the big game. … This is the third and final regular-season meeting between the 1998 Stanley Cup finalists. The Caps posted a 4-3 shootout win Nov. 15 at Joe Louis Arena. … Washington is 41 for 185 (22.2 pecent) on the power play this season, ranking third in the NHL. The Caps have scored 23 power-play goals at home this season, ranking tied for second in the league. … Last Friday, Ovechkin missed the game against New Jersey with a lower-body injury, marking it just the 25th time he’s missed a game in his nine-season career. Without Ovechkin in the lineup, the Caps are 13-10-2 while averaging 3.28 goals per game when the Russian superstar has been sidelined.

PLAYER TO WATCH: In the last two seasons, Massachusetts native John Carlson ranks third with 15 goals among American-born NHL defensemen, trailing only Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien (19) and Phoenix’s Keith Yandle (16). Carlson, who is a two-time Calder Cup champion, ranks eighth among NHL defensemen in goals (9), first among Washington skaters in ice time (24:29) and blocked shots (104) and second on the team in shots (146). He is one of eight players who has played in each of Washington’s 52 games this season and has played in 266 consecutive games, the second all-time longest streak by a Caps’ defenseman (Calle Johansson, 271).

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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