DETROIT – Besides a matchup of Original Six brethren featured on NBC Sports Network’s Rivalry Night, the outcome of tonight’s game at Joe Louis Arena is crucial for the Red Wings and Bruins who currently find themselves below the playoff line.
“We need it big time,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said of a win. “All you got to do is look at the standings. As soon as you’re below the line you’re not in a good spot. We’re below the lines.”
Signs are pointed in the Red Wings’ favor, as they have won eight of the last nine regular-season meetings with the Bruins, dating back to the 2009-10 season. However, just because Boston (1-3-0) has dropped three out of four games to start the season, doesn’t mean the Wings (1-1-0) are discounting the Bruins’ abilities.
“We are all aware of what kind of team they are,” Wings defenseman Jakub Kindl said. “We respect them, but if we play with our system, which means, speed, skate, and then I believe we can be very successful. Again, give them credit, they have the goaltending, defense, forwards, they’re a playoff team no doubt.”
Both the Wings and Bruins have struggled to put the puck in the net. Each team has produced just four goals. Boston has lost its last five games in Detroit, including a 2-1 defeat against the Red Wings last Thursday at JLA.
“I think anytime we play Boston, no matter what their record is it’s going to be a tough game,” forwards Justin Abdelkader said. “They’re very well coached. They’re a team that’s been a perennial Stanley Cup contender each year. They’re always a tough matchup for us. I don’t think you can look at their record this early in the season. It’s always going to be tough, hard fought battle and it’s going to be no different tonight.”
Goaltending definitely favors the Red Wings in this matchup between Jimmy Howard and Tuukka Rask, who’ve been on opposite courses when playing head-to-head in the regular season.
Howard is 5-1-0 with a 1.97 goals-against average and a .934 save percentage in six career games against the Bruins. Meanwhile, Rask, last year’s Vezina Trophy recipient, has struggled against the Red Wings, posting a 1-5-1 record with a 3.30 GAA and .874 save percentage in seven regular-season contests.
Much has been made of Howard’s commitment during the summer to physically and mentally prepare his body for the rigors of a long season. While the season is just a week old, Babcock already likes what he sees in his No. 1 goalie.
“When I talk to him he’s feeling way better, so he’s got himself looked after,” Babcock said. “He really trained hard in the summer. He feels good about himself. I think that’s a big part of feeling good about yourself mentally as well, when you feel sluggish each and every day you get to the rink it’s hard to feel good mentally. So obviously he takes a lot of pride in being a good player. We need him to be great. He’s in a big battle tonight here against Rask. Head to head that’s a good battle for him.”
For the Red Wings, getting geared up for any Original Six rivalry isn’t much of a chore.
“When it’s an Original Six team it usually gives you an extra kick out there,” Wings defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “The tradition and the players that they have, you really have to match their intensity in everything in able to beat these guys.
“Playing Boston, they’re really one of the teams that you want to beat. You know they are going to be a Stanley Cup contender every year and winning the Presidents’ Trophy every second year, or so it feels like, but you know they are up there. They’re a team that we feel we’re can win against. Now we’re in the same division so it’s just a matter of us being able to dig a little bit deeper.”
OLD HAT: For the Reilly and Brendan Smith, playing against one another in the NHL will never get old.
“Maybe it gets old answering questions about playing him,” the Bruins’ 23-year-old forward said Wednesday. “It’s an important game for us tonight. They’re a tough team and a tough team to play here. We definitely need this to get back on the board.”
Tonight marks the eighth time the Smiths will meet in a regular-season game. Brendan Smith’s Red Wings hold a 5-2-0 record against his younger brother’s teams.
In total, the Smiths have faced each other 13 times including last spring’s five-game playoff series, which the Bruins won. In contrast, the Miller brothers, Drew and Ryan, have met fewer than a dozen times in the NHL.
“It seems like we’re coming to Detroit every other week,” Reilly Smith said. “There’s definitely other buildings I’d rather play in, but I like the rivalry against them.”
WEISS WAITS: Stephen Weiss will be a healthy scratch tonight against the Bruins. The veteran center was also scratched from the last two regular-season games.
“It’s no fun to be a healthy scratch, that’s for sure,” Weiss said. “But I knew with the way things went last year that I was going to have to be real special in the preseason to get a chance here early in the season, especially with the way our young kids played last year.”
Weiss says he’s full recovered from two surgeries to repair a sports hernia which cost him more than half of last season. He was the Wings only player to appear in more than five games during the preseason, but his lack of point production (one assist) and a minus-4 rating didn’t bode well for the coaches.
“It’s a hard league. You don’t just snap your fingers and go out and score five goals in six games,” Weiss said. “It doesn’t happen like that. It’s a process. I would have loved for it to have happened like that but it’s not something that happens overnight, it’s a process. I’ve been working real hard in practice to be scoring goals and getting sharp again in those situations. It’s coming. It’s just a matter of getting a chance now.”