DETROIT – For the second time this week the Red Wings will welcome in a team that won’t qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs this season.
Detroit hosts the Columbus Blue Jackets at Joe Louis Arena tonight, three nights after a sluggish 5-2 win over the Western Conference-worst Edmonton Oilers.
Unlike Monday’s game, coach Mike Babcock would like to see his team pounce on a struggling team that has one regulation win in their last 10 games.
“We come in here and try to make everyone look like the ’68 Montreal Canadiens,” Babcock said, facetiously. “Doesn’t matter what their record is. That’s what we try to do. But they don’t believe us.”
Since returning from a six-game road trip when they posted a 4-1-1 record against Western Conference opponents, the Wings are 2-2-0 and have been outscored 3-1 and out-shot 30-19 in the past two first periods.
Detroit and the Blue Jackets have swapped places on the injury front this season. Currently, Columbus has four forwards on IR and making matter worse, an illness has made its way through the Blue Jackets’ locker room, claiming Brandon Dubinsky for tonight’s game.
“The bottom line is we know we got to get better,” Babcock said. “We aren’t, I wouldn’t say, firing on all cylinders right now like we were two weeks ago, so it’s time to get our game back. You go in ebbs and flows during the season but we’re working on getting our game back, and that’s what we’re going to try and do today.”
Jimmy Howard will make start No. 42 of the season and his third against the Blue Jackets, a team that he has had great success against throughout his career. Howard enters tonight’s game on a shutout streak of 138:02 against Columbus.
With a win tonight, Howard will become just the second goalie in franchise history to reach the 21-win plateau for the sixth straight season, equaling Chris Osgood, who did it from 1995-96 to 2000-01.
With the postseason five weeks away, it’s important for the Wings to continue tuning up their game before the puck drops on the opening playoff series. But the players know they can’t take a team like Columbus lightly.
“The way the league is right now, you’ve got to play and show up every single night,” fourth-line forward Drew Miller said. “Every team is capable of beating every team. It doesn’t matter where they are in the standings, we want to continue to take care of our game and improve with 17 games until playoffs. You can’t just limp your way in and then decide you’re going to play well.”
Columbus is looking to win consecutive games for just the third time since the All-Star break. The Jackets posted a 4-3 shootout win at Carolina on Tuesday. Meanwhile, the Wings need points to hold off the hard-charging Boston Bruins in the Atlantic Division playoff race.
“They need a win and we need a win. We need a win more actually for what we’re trying to do, so priorities, let’s play real well,” Babcock said. “I thought they had a real good second and third (periods) against Carolina the other day and they’ve got one of the best goaltenders (Sergei Bobrovsky) in the world. They box out hard at their net, so we’re going to have to get there.”
HELM UPDATE: It’s already taken longer to recover from an oblique strain than Darren Helm initially thought it would when he was injured Feb. 28 at Nashville.
“I’m getting close, feeling better each day,” he said. “Just taking it a day at a time, see how I feel.”
Helm was injured early in the first period against the Predators, but the speedy center isn’t quite sure how he was hurt.
“I have no idea,” he said. “There was a little speculation that I got hit and kind of twisted and it could have been on one of those plays, but I can’t recall feeling sore after a hit. It just kind of gradually came on and got worse and worse each shift to a point where I couldn’t skate or play.”
Helm is not in tonight’s lineup against the Blue Jackets, but Babcock told reporters Wednesday that he thought he’d be available perhaps for one of this weekend’s games, either in Philadelphia or Pittsburgh.
However, Helm was more guarded about his status.
“It’s always a possibility,” Helm added. “I don’t know if I’ve been green lighted yet, but if I feel good tomorrow, then there’s a chance. If not, then we just keep waiting.”
Helm feels skating is his chief concern as it isn’t where it needs to be for him to reenter the lineup.
“There’s not a lot of power there yet,” Helm said. “I need to be skating to be able to play and be effective, so I’ve got to wait until I’m able to do that.”