Just over a month ago the Stars were atop the Pacific Division. What a difference a month makes, now they are taking up space in the division’s basement with Anaheim, and are in a three way tie for the No. 9 spot in the Western Conference, two-points out of the final playoff spot. Adding to the Stars’ woes, they’re on a five game losing streak and are 1-8-1 in their last 10 games.
The Red Wings, however, have seen their fortunes turn with the addition of key players returning from injuries, including Pavel Datsyuk
, Danny Cleary
and Brad Stuart
. They have won five of their last six games.
The Western Conference is tight once again.
The Red Wings continue to try and catch Vancouver for the top spot while still trying to create as much space as possible between the Sharks and Coyotes, who are in hot pursuit.
“There’s still a lot of hockey to be played and you have a bad week and a couple of teams have a good week and you look at that board and you kind of see how they move,” Wings center Kris Draper said. “That’s something we’re well aware of, but we’ve put together a nice little win streak.
“We want to challenge Vancouver for the top spot and put ourselves in a great position for the playoffs and that’s what it’s all about.”
Wings coach Mike Babcock knows the Stars have been up for his team of late, posting a 5-2-0 record against Detroit over the last two regular-seasons.
“We had success against Dallas the last time we played them, prior to that we hadn’t beat them in a long time,” he said. “We’ve got to look after ourselves at home; we haven’t been as good at home as we would like to be. We have been better on the road lately, so the bottom line is we’ve got to be better.”
For the Stars every single game becomes crucial. They have 22 games left, and like the Wings, the injury bug has hit them hard. But getting all-star forward Brad Richards back after Monday’s NHL trade deadline should help their cause.
“The focus now is just on one game,” Stars forward Adam Burish said. “For us we’ve lost whatever it is now four or five in a row, so now it’s lets get two points, that’s it. We need to get two points and then we’ll right the ship from there.
“We’ve also talked about just getting guys healthy. We’ve been hurt so much lately with 7 or 8 guys down in the last month, any team with that many guys hurt it’s tough to win. For us it’s just about building some energy with the thought of getting guys back and getting guys healthy. We’ve got pretty much everyone back with Richards and (Nicklas) Grossman, who’s close – so that’s another thing where we can build some energy and build some excitement that way.”
Burish himself was activated Feb. 23 after he suffered a facial injury in Boston earlier in the month.
“The wins that we had earlier have given us a little bit of a cushion,” he said, “and that we’re still in the hunt we’re still in the race.”MULE KICKED:
Marred in his longest scoring drought in more then three seasons, power forward Johan Franzen
hasn’t scored since his five-goal outburst in the Red Wings’ 7-5 win at Ottawa on Feb. 2.
But Babcock isn’t worried.
“Mule can always shoot the puck,” he said. “The challenge for Mule is that we want him on the inside, we want him to be big and physical, and be at the net.”
In the last 10 games, Franzen is scoreless with four assists, a plus-3 rating and 34 shots. It’s his longest goal drought since the start of the 2007-08 season when he was held scoreless in the first 11 games.
“He can always be a shooter. He’ll be able to be a shooter at 40 (years old), get up and down the wing, and getting two kids to pass him the puck and he’ll score goals. But if you want to be a dominant power forward, you have to be involved; you have to be on the inside.”AN OLD FACE RETURNS:
Stars forward Jason Williams makes his return to Detroit for the first time since he was signed by the Stars on Feb. 12.
“I still talk to Dan Cleary and Kris Draper a bit, Todd Bertuzzi
, and obviously if I see anybody I stop and say, ‘Hi’,” said Williams, who played scored 55 goals with 76 assists in 277 games in two stints with the Wings. “Those guys there that I mentioned are the guys I really keep in touch with and talk to via text message.
“You know, wherever you go you meet new guys, but those are the guys I’ve really still kept in touch with.”FILPPULA UPDATE: Valtteri Filppula
has missed seven games since spraining his left knee, but is eyeing a return when the Wings embark on a five game road trip starting Saturday in Buffalo.
“Not back tonight, thinking about Saturday,” Filppula said. “I feel pretty good about it right now. When I skate harder I usually have to wait till the next morning to see how it feels, but I feel pretty good right now. It was a little sore today. I went out there though and it felt pretty good, so that’s the main thing.”
Filppula will try and mesh with a team that seems to be hitting its stride.
“Trying to play the same way I’ve been playing, well defensively and hopefully every once in a while get some offense,” he said. “The team is playing really well now so it will be fun. Important road trip for us definitely need some wins out of there, we’ve been playing really well on the road so hopefully we can keep going the same way.”DetroitRedWings.com Managing Editor Bill Roose contributed to this report.