VANCOUVER – The Red Wings drop the puck on a new year Saturday night at Rogers Arena, beginning the first of two six-game road trips during a two-month stretch that features 17 of their next 23 games on the road.
These will be their first six-game road trips since 2008-09 when they played six road games in a row from Jan. 12-27, 2009, compiling a 2-2-2 record.
Though the team’s task before them appears to be a grueling one, the Red Wings – who are in third place in the Atlantic Division with 49 points – are upbeat about their mission.
“It’s a good time to go on this trip, come together even more as a team,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “I think it’s a great opportunity.”
Nobody has played more home games than the Red Wings this season, which certainly has helped them compete near the top of the Eastern Conference. The first half of the season was very kind as the Red Wings built a 13-4-6 record on home ice. Home cooking also has allowed the Wings to average 2.91 goals per game, while surrendering just 2.04 goals per game at Joe Louis Arena.
However, the complete opposite is true on the road, where this young team is still learning how to stockpile wins away from home.
“No question, 100 percent,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We’re trying to figure out if we’re good or not. That’s the biggest thing. To me, to be a good team it’s about finding a way to look after the details every single day, putting your work habits before your skill. If you do those things you have a chance to be good in this league.”
The Wings have played a league-fewest 15 road games and have been outscored 41-40 during that stretch. But in recent years, they’ve had some success in Western Canada, posting a combined 7-2-0 record on their past three three-game swings through Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary.
“I think we always enjoy coming out here to Vancouver,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “It’s such a beautiful city and it’s a great hockey city, so it makes for a lot of fun.
“It’s going to be three games here where it’s going to be a tough stretch. You just have to play that simple hockey on the road, not try to be too cute. Just play a simple game.”
The next three games will give the Red Wings a hodgepodge of Western Conference talent from the Canucks and Calgary who are tied for third place in the Pacific Division to Edmonton, who own the league’s worst record. But either way, the Wings won’t take anyone lightly.
“They’re good teams,” Kronwall said. “Vancouver’s been playing really well so far. They seemed to have gotten things together from last year. Edmonton obviously is having some struggles but it seems like it’s always tight games and Calgary has been one of the biggest surprises this year, hard-working team. But we want to make sure we start on time and play our game. That’s the biggest key.
“We don’t mind coming out there, absolutely. Especially coming together as a team you spend even more time with each other, dinners, things like that, lunches after practices. I think everybody enjoys it.”
Long road trips can also be good team-building exercises for some of the younger players.
“You definitely get to spend more time with your teammates compared to when you’re at home,” center Riley Sheahan said. “Obviously, guys’ families aren’t with them, and here the main priority is to be around the team, hockey is the main priority. So, it will be fun to spend some time around the guys.”
IN VANCOUVER: The Red Wings are 6-2-2 in their past 10 games at Rogers Arena with half of those games going into at least overtime, including three that were decided in the shootout.
Saturday’s game brings the season-series to a close. Detroit won the first meeting, 5-3, on Nov. 30 at Joe Louis Arena.
“They have skilled guys up front and they’re back to playing the way they used to with the Sedins really getting into the cycle and rotating down low,” Howard said. “It’s going to be a tough task for our D.”
LINE SHUFFLE: Babcock is uncertain with how he plans to deploy the Red Wings’ line combinations against the Canucks. Tomas Tatar moved to left wing on Pavel Datsyuk’s line at practice Friday, while Henrik Zetterberg was at left wing on Sheahan’s second line, and right wing Gustav Nyquist moved from the third line to the second line.
“I don’t know,” said Babcock, when asked about the forward lines. “I don’t even know for warmup. I haven’t decided. Long flight out here, you got nothing to do, you get bored, you starting writing things around.”
HIGHS & LOWS:
Goalie - DET
GAA: 2.08 | Sv%: .921
In a span of three days, Howard went from facing a season-high in shot on goal at Boston (44) to his season-low Wednesday against New Jersey (13).
What was the different between Monday and Wednesday?
“If you noticed we did a really good job with our F-3 all night long and when we have three high like that it just seems like teams can’t really get through the neutral zone on us,” said Howard, who will start Saturday against the Canucks. “It seems like when you have three get lost you know teams can be fast and you know they’re getting in on us. I think it’s just very important and I think that’s where we executed really well the other night against New Jersey.”
The Red Wings’ defense has done magnificently in their own zone, holding teams to just 27.3 shots per game, which is third stingiest in the league. Detroit finished No. 14 last season allowing 29.3 shots per game.
The Devils have been held to 19 or fewer shots seven times this season, twice by Detroit.