But don’t be fooled, Red Wings’ fans.
Though the Wings have dates against three teams, all of whom are currently on the outside looking in at the playoff picture, the Colorado Avalanche, Edmonton Oilers and Columbus Blue Jackets, twice, won’t be pushovers.
The good news for the Wings is that three of these games are home at Joe Louis Arena. But these games are particularly crucial for the Wings, especially since it’s the only time in the next month and a half that they’ll host as many games in a one week period.
The Wings must take advantage of this schedule, especially the games against the Avs and Blue Jackets, who are the most penalized teams in the Western Conference. Both teams are averaging 15.2 penalty minutes per game.
Thursday’s game against Edmonton will mark the halfway point of this lockout-shortened 48-game schedule for the Red Wings. This week’s possible eights-points are critical, because 15 of the final 24 games are away from the friendly confines of The Joe.
So, with that, here’s a look ahead to this week in Hockeytown:
TUESDAY – vs. COLORADO AVALANCHE (8-8-4):
Center - COL
GOALS: 7 | ASST: 12 | PTS: 19
SOG: 47 | +/-: 4
Owners of the league’s worst road penalty kill, the Avalanche have struggled when short-handed. Sunday was no different as the Avs began a three-game road trip with a 2-1 overtime loss to the Blue Jackets, who scored a pair of power-play goals on Sunday. The Red Wings, who have scored 14 times on the power-play in 13 home games, will look to take advantage of the Avs’ inept PK, which has yielded 17 goals on the road. Colorado is 2-6-2 when allowing a power-play goal this season. … The Avs are in the middle of a stretch that finds them playing six-of-seven on the road. Following this stretch, Colorado will play six-of-seven at home. … Defenseman Greg Zanon’s 60 blocked shots lead the best shot-blocking team in the NHL. Seven different skaters, including five defensemen, have at least 20 blocks for the Avs, who are averaging a league-high 18.8 blocked shots per game.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Matt Duchene is coming off a solid month, leading the Avs with 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 11 games during February. He also had four multi-point games last month. In the last three-plus seasons, the Avs are 24-11-3 when Duchene collects more than one point in a game. The former third overall draft pick in 2009, Duchene leads Colorado in assists (12), points (19), average ice time (21:20) and face-off percentage (53.1%). … Duchene has averaged a point a game in 12 career contests against the Red Wings, with six of his 12 points coming on the Avs’ power play.
THURSDAY – vs. EDMONTON OILERS (8-9-4):
Defense - EDM
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 13
SOG: 46 | +/-: -4
The Oilers are currently on an excruciating nine-game road trip through America’s heartland. Thursday’s game is the sixth game of the trip, and their second, and last, visit to Joe Louis Arena this season. The Oilers dropped a 2-1 decision to the Red Wings on Jan. 9, when Niklas Kronwall
potted the game-winner at 6:08 of the third period. … As of Sunday, the Oilers had only two plus-rated players – defenseman Mark Fistric (plus-4) and center Eric Belanger (plus-1) – which is tied with the New York Islanders for second fewest in the league. … Despite being in the bottom third of conference scoring, the Oilers are among the top six West teams with at least five skaters with five or more goals: Ales Hemsky (8), Nail Yakupov (6), Jordan Eberle (6), Sam Gagner (6), and Justin Schultz (5).
PLAYER TO WATCH: Like the Red Wings’ Brendan Smith, Oilers rookie defenseman Justin Schultz has incredible offensive instincts. He still has plenty to learn, though he’s been a huge part of the Oilers’ success on the power play this season, ranking among top league and rookie leaders in many categories, including seventh in defensive scoring, and third in rookie scoring with 13 points. The former Wisconsin Badgers defenseman is tied with Yakupov at the top of rookie power-play scoring with four goals. Schultz has a goal and five assists in the last six games, and is currently on a career-best four-game point streak. … Between playing in the AHL (during the lockout) and his first stint in the NHL, Schultz has played in 55 games, which is 12 more games than he ever played in any single season at Wisconsin.
SATURDAY – at COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (6-12-4):
Right Wing - CBJ
GOALS: 2 | ASST: 2 | PTS: 4
SOG: 21 | +/-: 2
The Red Wings know a thing or two about adversity, compiling 138 man-games missed with what seems like an unprecedented number of injuries this season. The Blue Jackets are starting to feel a similar pain having lost a huge chunk of their defense with D-partners Jack Johnson and James Wisniewski both on injured reserve. Compounding the Jackets’ injuries woes, defenseman Nikita Nikitin suffered an upper body injury and didn’t return to Sunday’s OT win over Colorado. The loss of Jackson, for any amount of time, is devastating for the Jackets, as he’s among the league leaders in ice time, logging 26:13 of time per game, which is fourth best in the league. … The Jackets own the West’s worst home record at 4-4-3, though they are 1-0-1 in two games against the Red Wings at Nationwide Arena this season.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Though undersized at 5-foot-7 and 172-pounds, Cam Atkinson has a nose for the net, and certainly gives the Blue Jackets plenty of energy when he’s on the ice. He’s recorded four goals and three assists in his last five home games, which dates back to last season. An upper left ankle sprain sidelined the 23-year-old Atkinson for 13 games. However, he’s played in two of three games against Detroit, collecting half of his season totals of two goals and two assists against the Red Wings.
SUNDAY – vs. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (6-12-4):
Center - CBJ
GOALS: 5 | ASST: 7 | PTS: 12
SOG: 35 | +/-: 2
This is the 74th all-time meeting between these Central Division rivals. The Blue Jackets have defeated the Wings twice this year, including a 4-2 victory on Feb. 21 – just their eighth all-time win at Joe Louis Arena for the Columbus franchise. The Wings haven’t lost more than two games in regulation to any Ohio-based team, including the Cleveland Barons in the 1970s, in any single season. Overall, the Jackets are 8-23-4 in Detroit. … Columbus leads the Western Conference with fighting majors (23) and hits (553). Blue Jackets enforcers Jared Boll (8) and Derek Dorsett (5) are first and third in the West, respectively, in fighting majors.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Former Western Michigan star Mark Letestu – who led the Broncos in scoring during the one CCHA season he played (2006-07) – is in a three-way tie for the Blue Jackets’ scoring lead with 11 points. The third-year NHL center brings good hockey sense to the Jackets, along with quality face-off skills, where he leads Columbus with 111 wins in the circle this season. He has five goals and eight assists this year, but is heating up over the last three games with three assists and a plus-2 rating. Letestu has two points, both goals, in seven career games against Detroit.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose