DETROIT — Following the season’s longest road trip, the Red Wings return home for match-ups against the New York Rangers and Calgary Flames before traveling to Boston for a game on Sunday afternoon.
With a 4-1-1 mark through a grueling stretch of away games, the Wings may have exceeded their own expectations as the slate of opponents was some of the NHL’s best. What it did though was solidify the Wings as legitimate contenders for the postseason as they proved to be a team that can compete in varying types of games from winning an offensive outburst at Dallas to playing a scrappy defensive battle in a win at San Jose.
That series of games will provide the team with confidence heading into important Eastern Conference matchups with the Rangers and Bruins, as well as the Flames, who currently are in ninth place in the Western Conference.
The Wings sit comfortably in the standings with 81 points. With 21 games left, the Wings, who are 10 points ahead of fourth-place Boston, will see plenty of other teams that are desperate for points.
The Flames and Bruins are very much threatening opponents because of their need for points in the standings. Both teams are in the thick of their wild card races and every game is a must-win in order to keep pace.
Pavel Datsyuk has been dependable all season long but as of late, has been his best with seven goals and 13 points in the past eight games. Jimmy Howard hasn’t been as consistent in net since returning from a groin injury but has very much shown what he is capable of. He went save-for-save with one of the best in Montreal’s Carey Price and followed it up with a 32-save shootout win over Chicago’s Corey Crawford.
With that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
|Derek Stepan |
WEDNESDAY vs. NEW YORK (38-17-6): This will be the Rangers’ third and final regular-season meeting with the Wings and will also begin a five-game road trip for the Blueshirts. The Rangers are among the NHL’s best with a goal-differential of plus-40, showing they are capable of not only putting up big numbers offensively but also limiting their opponent’s chances. Led by left wing Rick Nash, the Rangers have scored four or more goals in seven of the past 10 games while averaging 31.1 shots per game. If the Wings can hold New York from reaching both of those marks, it should give them a good chance to win against a vulnerable goalie in Cam Talbot who has surrendered at least three goals in nine of his last 11 starts.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Derek Stepan has posted four multi-point games in the last eight contests, recording two goals and nine points over the span. He is tied for third in the NHL in assists (32), and is one of five players in franchise history to record 40 or more points in each of his first five NHL seasons. Stepan does it all for the Rangers, logging minutes on both the power play and penalty kill as well as leading team forwards in average ice time (18:14). He’s been held scoreless in his last three contests, but don’t expect the drought to continue for the 24-year-old, who hasn’t gone more than three games without a point all season.
|Sean Monahan |
FRIDAY vs. CALGARY (33-25-4): The Flames come to Detroit on the second half of a back-to-back stretch as they play in Boston on Thursday. Calgary has a 5-1-1 record in the second game of back-to-backs this season and will play eight away games this month. The Flames are tied with Los Angeles for third place in the Pacific Division thanks in large part to the efforts of their penalty kill. In the last 14 games, Calgary’s PK has been an impressive 27-of-28. With the offense propelled by young guns Sean Monahan (21) and Johnny Gaudreau (15), the 20-somethings are first and third in goals on one of the youngest teams in the NHL. That youth has a tendency to run hot and cold at times, and the Flames have averaged just 1.8 goals per game for the last two weeks.
PLAYER TO WATCH: The team’s leading goal scorer, Monahan notched a power-play goal – his 20th goal of the season – on Jan. 20 against Anaheim. The 20-year-old center became the first Flames player to have consecutive 20-goal seasons to start a career since Sergei Makarov accomplished the feat as a 31-year-old in 1989-91. Monahan has four goals and eight points in the last six games and will have to maintain that level of production in order to jump-start the Flames’ offense. Monahan leads the team with five game-winning goals and has 12 power-play points with just eight penalty minutes in 62 games this season.
|Reilly Smith |
SUNDAY at BOSTON (31-22-9): The Bruins made it hard on themselves to make a playoff push, as February was the team’s worst month going just 4-6-2. Boston will have to be near perfect the rest of the way if it wants to extend the playoff streak to eight seasons. Much of their struggles can be credited to the power play, which converted just 5-of-34 opportunities last month. Boston is 1-1-1 this season against the Wings and with Sunday’s start time moved up to 12:30 p.m., now has 10 matinee games on its schedule. The Bruins are 3-1-3 in such games and will play back-to-back matinees this weekend with a game against Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Right wing Reilly Smith is enjoying his best stretch of the season with eight points in the last seven games. Smith had two assists in Saturday’s 4-1 win over Arizona, including a helper on Brad Marchand’s eventual game-winning goal. The younger brother of Wings defenseman Brendan Smith, Reilly tends to play well in this sibling rivalry with two goals in three games this season. Boston will need more production out of players like Smith in the season’s final 20 games as he is second on the team with 35 points and has a plus-11 rating with eight power-play points.