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March 9: A Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
Veteran defenseman Jack Johnson is one of a few Columbus regulars who has remained somewhat healthy this season. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT — Sunday’s afternoon game kicked off a five-game stretch in eight days for the Red Wings.

Monday marks just the eighth time that the Wings will play games on consecutive days as they play the Edmonton Oilers. The Columbus Blue Jackets will also come to town before the team plays another set of back-to-backs against Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Thanks to a fortunate schedule, the Wings haven’t had to play many games on consecutive days but have fared pretty well, going 4-2-1 in the second game of back-to-backs. If fact, no other team in the league has played fewer back-to-backs this season than the Wing. Quite fortunate considering Buffalo, Columbus, New Jersey and Toronto have all played 15 games on short rest already this season.

With the Oilers on Monday and the Pennsylvania teams on consecutive days later in the week, the Wings will have to adjust and have a quick transition from one game to the next, something defenseman Niklas Kronwall will look to do this week.

“You try to focus on the next game as soon as possible,” Kronwall said. “Make sure you flush the last night’s game and get ready for the next one.”

After suffering a 5-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Sunday, Kronwall will want to regroup in a fortuitous match-up with the Western Conference’s last place Oilers. Throw in a mid-week game against an injury-plagued Columbus team with the second-worst goal differential in the Eastern Conference (minus-41) and the Wings will have two quality chances to get back on track after tough weekend losses to the Bruins and the Calgary Flames.

Sunday’s game in Boston being moved up to an earlier start time also helps as it means an earlier return trip back to Detroit. That, Justin Abdelkader said could be very beneficial for the players to be able to sleep in their own beds following a tough road game.

“It’s obviously nice that we have an early game, so we’ll get home earlier and get a rest,” Abdelkader said. “Calgary played back-to-back. They played in Boston and then played here in Detroit, and they seemed to be skating well and playing pretty good. I think it’s always just getting off to a good start as best you can when you’re on back-to-back nights.”

A strong 20 minutes can go a long way in terms of the game and getting into a rhythm. Kronwall said it’s not just about the start — as they did against the Flames on Friday, jumping out to an early 2-0 lead — but being able to put together a full 60-minute effort in order to get back in the win column.

“We utilize our strength which is our speed,” Kronwall said. “When we do, we know that we can beat most teams. That’s something obviously we’d like to utilize even more than we have here as of late as far as the 60-minute game plan goes.”

It will be a challenge to generate speed on tired legs but against playoff contenders like the Flyers and Penguins at week’s end, coach Mike Babcock’s team will have to gut out important games on short rest against talented opponents.

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

Eberle

MONDAY vs. EDMONTON (18-37-11): The Oilers find themselves in a painfully familiar position in the standings as their 47 points puts them in last place in the Western Conference. Edmonton has finished in last place two of the previous four seasons and hasn’t finished higher than 12th in that span. In the midst of a five-game road trip, the Oilers’ 8-17-9 record in away games makes them one of the worst road teams in the league with a 23.5 winning percentage. Like the Wings, the Oilers will play on short rest in this one having played the previous afternoon against Carolina. With a 1-5-2 record in the second game of back-to-backs this season, Edmonton allows an average of 3.9 goals in eight games on short rest.

PLAYER TO WATCH: With 47 points, forward Jordan Eberle leads the team for the third time in five seasons. At 24-years-old, Eberle is one of the more experienced Oilers forwards with 340 career games played. As one of the NHL’s youngest teams, the Oilers have relied on Eberle and 21-year-old Ryan Nugent-Hopkins to carry the workload. Eberle has 10 multi-point games this season — four in the last three weeks — and recorded one against the Wings on Jan. 6, when he scored both Oilers goals in a 4-2 loss. He also picked up a three-point performance with a goal and two assists in Sunday’s 7-4 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.

Foligno

THURSDAY vs. COLUMBUS (27-34-4): The Blue Jackets are 18 points out of a wild card position in the Eastern Conference and should miss the postseason for the fifth time in six seasons. Much of the team’s struggles can be credited to injuries as Columbus has already reached a new franchise-high in man games lost to injury with 413. The Blue Jackets snapped a seven-game losing streak with a 3-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday with all three goals coming at even strength. The Jackets’ eighth-ranked PP unit (20.5 percent) has gone cold as of late, converting just 2-of-29 attempts in the last 10 games, but even strength they’ve scored 39 of the last 45 goals with 15 different skaters have contributed to the offensive production.

PLAYER TO WATCH: In his eighth season, forward Nick Foligno has posted career-highs in goals (24), assists (34) and points (58) for the Blue Jackets, leading the team in all three categories. Foligno had a three-game point streak snapped on Saturday, as the Jackets were shut out by the Colorado Avalanche 4-0, but the left winger has six goals and 13 points in the last 15 games and has been one of the few constants for Columbus this season. The 27-year-old Foligno also leads the Jackets’ power-play efforts with nine goals and 23 points on the man advantage.

Voracek

SATURDAY at PHILADELPHIA (28-26-13): With 15 games left on the schedule, the Flyers will need a strong push in the final month of the regular season to squeeze their way into a crowded playoff picture. Saturday’s matinee game will be the regular-season finale with the series at one game apiece. Special teams have played a large role in the series, as the winner of the two prior games produced a power-play goal. The Flyers have the NHL’s fourth-ranked power play with a 22.8 percent conversion rating but the penalty kill is highly susceptible at 76.2 percent and ranking 28th in the league. The PK unit has given up multiple power-play goals in 11 games this season, including both goals in the team’s 3-2 shootout loss to the Bruins on Saturday.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Jakub Voracek snapped a seven-game scoring drought with a power-play goal against the Bruins on Saturday. Voracek once led the league in points as the 25-year-old blazed through the first-half of the season alongside Claude Giroux. Since Jan. 14, however, Voracek has just three goals and 14 points in 24 games and ranks tied for fifth in the NHL with 66 points. While Voracek has struggled in the second-half of the season, so have the Flyers with a 4-3-3 record in the last 10 games. Being five points out of the playoff picture, Voracek will have to be better down the stretch to give his team a shot at the postseason.

Comeau

SUNDAY at PITTSBURGH (38-18-9): The third and final regular-season meeting, both teams have a win apiece in the series. Like the Wings, the Penguins will come into Sunday’s match-up on short rest as both teams play the previous afternoon. The Penguins have a 6-4-3 record in the second game of back-to-backs this season and won games on consecutive nights last weekend against the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings. The Pens have won five of the last six with a top 10 power play that is 6-for-27 in that span. In the last 10 home games, Pittsburgh is just 5-4-1 and giving up 2.70 goals per game. Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin have combined for just one assist in two games against the Wings this season.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Averaging just 15:36 of ice time per game (12th among active Penguins), Blake Comeau doesn’t spend much time on special teams but makes his impact felt playing 5-on-5. Behind Malkin (44) and Crosby (40), Comeau has the most even-strength points (27) for the Penguins and has six multi-point games this season. Two of the multi-point performances came against the Wings, as he had a goal and assist in just 12:50 of ice time in the Pens’ 4-1 win on Feb. 11.

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