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Nov. 11: Week Ahead in Hockeytown

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Since his return, Darren Helm has a goal and won 50 percent of the face-offs he's take in four games. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT – Turnovers have killed the Red Wings lately. Whether it is miscues in the neutral zone or behind their own net, maintaining possession of the puck has become a real sore spot for the Red Wings who are on a five-game home losing skid with Winnipeg and Washington set to invade Joe Louis Arena this week.

“For us in here it’s all about us right now,” said defenseman Niklas Kronwall following the Red Wings’ 3-2 overtime loss to Tampa Bay on Saturday. “We have to find a way to be better as a team in all areas of the ice. I feel the PK is pretty good. (Jimmy Howard) has been unbelievable for us, but in all other aspects of the game we have to work on our own game. It doesn’t matter who we play.”

The Red Wings have lost three consecutive home games to Tampa Bay, Dallas and the New York Rangers in the waning seconds of overtime. And like Saturday’s outcome, turnovers have helped perpetrate the last-second losses.

“I think this team is working hard, we got to work smarter, though,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Sometimes when it doesn’t go your way you just stake and skate and skate, so it’s tough to work harder but you got to work smarter.

“You can’t jump in plays, can’t go as the third man. It’s tempting to do that when you’re the home team and you’re chasing from behind, but you got to trust your structure.”

The Red Wings enter this week in third-place in the Atlantic Division with 22 points through 18 games.

With two home games this week, the Wings would like to end their current losing skid at five games. Though the last time they lost six straight at home, they followed it up with a Stanley Cup championship.

In the middle of the 1996-97 schedule, Detroit had a six-game home winless streak (0-4-2-0), which was followed by another six-game dry spell (0-3-2-1) that crossed into Game 1 of their opening-round playoff series with St. Louis. The Wings finished with a 20-12-8-1 (W-L-T-OTL) regular-season record that season at Joe Louis Arena, but turned things around with a 9-1 home mark en route to securing the franchise’s first Stanley Cup title in 42 years.

Still, the Wings would like to change their fortunes at home sooner than later.

“We have to take advance of it when we’re home and we haven’t done that so far and that’s something that we obviously have to look after here real soon,” Kronwall said.

The Red Wings will have their hands full against the Jets, who out-skated Detroit a week ago. The last time Winnipeg won a regular-season game in Detroit was Jan. 8, 1996 when goalie Tim Cheveldae faced 47 shots in lifting the Jets to a 6-4 victory.

“We weren’t skating against the Jets, so I didn’t think we did ourselves justice,” said Kronwall of the 4-2 loss at MTS Centre last Monday. “They came skating and we didn’t skate. We were on our heels the whole game. We have to get skating again for 60 minutes.”

As for the Capitals and their Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin, who always pose an eminent threat, Kronwall said, “Ovechkin is a lot like (Stephen) Stamkos, shoots it from anywhere and has a laser and is able to find those open areas. Plus he has a guy in Nick (Backstrom) who is going to feed him non-stop all game. You have to do a very good job defensively to be able to contain those guys.”

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

Dustin Byfuglien
Defense  - WIN
Goals: 1 | Assists: 11 | Pts: 12
Shots: 64 | +/-: -6
TUESDAY – vs. WINNIPEG (8-9-2): It was a week ago that the Jets rained on the Red Wings’ West Coast victory parade ceasing Detroit’s modest three-game winning streak that has spiraled to a 0-1-2 mark in the last three games. Winnipeg’s best period this season has been the third, scoring the most goals (19) and allowing the least (15) compared to the first two periods and overtime where the Jets have been out-scored 39-28. The Jets’ third-period goal total ranks tied for fourth-most in the NHL. Last week, the Jets unleashed a season-high 47 shots against the Red Wings. Winnipeg is averaging 32.7 shots per game, but just 27.1 shots per game on the road. … Forward Matt Halischuck has found his offensive stride lately playing on a line with Michael Frolik and rookie Mark Scheifele. Halischuck’s line has been in on three goals over the last three games where he has picked up a goal and an assist, including the game-winning goal last Monday against the Red Wings. It was Halischuk’s first in a Jets uniform. … Through 19 games, Bryan Little has eight goals and is chasing his career-best 31 goals scored in 2008-09. Little has only taken 41 shots – the lowest amongst players with eight or more goals. His 24.2 shooting percentage ranks second in the division trailing only St. Louis forward Alexander Steen (26.9 percent).

PLAYER TO WATCH: It took 18 games to score his first goal of the season, or so Dustin Byfuglien thought. Last Friday, it appeared that the veteran defenseman scored on a slap shot from the point. However, the goal was later awarded to Eric Tangradi on a tip in. Still, the play resulted in Byfuglien’s team-leading 11th assist, which also ties him for fifth among all NHL defensemen. Byfuglien has compiled five of his assists on the power play and leads the Jets in power-play points. He ranks tied with Montreal’s P.K. Subban and Ottawa’s Erik Karlsson for first among NHL defensemen in shots on goal at 59. Byfuglien officially scored his first of the season in Sunday's 5-4 shootout win over San Jose.

Nicklas Backstrom
Center  - WAS
Goals: 5 | Assists: 15 | Pts: 20
Shots: 39 | +/-: -1
FRIDAY – vs. WASHINGTON (9-8-1): The Capitals, who are 4-1-1 in November, come to town with one of the league’s best specialty teams. Washington owns the No.1 power play, which is clicking along at 26.7 percent (20-of-75), and is second-ranked penalty kill at 88.7 percent (63-of-71). Until Saturday’s shootout loss at Phoenix, the Caps were a perfect 7-0 in games decided by extra time. Nicklas Backstrom is perfect in SO attempts this season, tied with three other players in the league at 3-for-3. Goalie Braden Holtby (3-of-9) is 2-0 in shootouts. … Alexander Ovechkin is four goals shy of passing Peter Bondra (137) for first place on the Capitals’ all-time power-play goals list. In eight career games against the Red Wings, Ovechkin has produced 12 points, including nine on the power play. … Washington has scored four or more goals in eight of its 18 games this season, posting a 7-1-0 record in those games. … This is the first of two games in Detroit for the Capitals this season. They will return to Joe Louis Arena on Jan. 31.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Nicklas Backstrom earned three power-play assists in the second period last Tuesday against the New York Islanders, marking the seventh time in his career he has recorded three assists in one period and the third time he has earned three power-play assists in a game. Backstrom has earned more three-assist periods than any other player since he entered the NHL in October 2007. The Swedish star ranks tied for seventh among active players in three-assist games, trailing Jaromir Jagr (57), Joe Thornton (53), Sidney Crosby (36), Teemu Selanne (30), Henrik Sedin (30), and Daniel Alfredsson (24). Backstrom currently ranks tied for second in the league with 15 assists this season. … He has registered 11 of his 19 points in the second period.

Kyle Okposo
Right Wing  - NYI
Goals: 5 | Assists: 14 | Pts: 19
Shots: 41 | +/-: 6
SATURDAY – at NEW YORK ISLANDERS (6-9-3): Late last month, the Islanders acquired forward Thomas Vanek from the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for Matt Moulson, and draft picks in 2014 and 2015. But the Isles might be without Vanek as he suffered an upper body injury in his first shift in Saturday’s 5-2 loss at Columbus and missed Sunday’s game at Montreal. Meanwhile, defensemen Lubomir Visnovsky (concussion) and Brian Strait (upper body) are on injured reserve. … Until last Thursday, when they were shutout 1-0 at Carolina, the Islanders had scored at least two goals in every game this season. Call the Comeback Kids, but the Islanders have trailed at some point in four of their six victories, including all three road wins. However, goalie Evgeni Nabokov has allowed 14 goals on 98 shots in his last three starts while his goals-against average has inflated to 3.24 and his save percentage dipped to .894. … Andrew MacDonald leads the NHL with 67 blocked shots. Last season he tied for third in the league with 123 blocks, two shy of the leader, the Rangers’ Dan Girardi. … Islanders defenseman Matt Carkner is a cousin of former NHL tough guy Terry Carkner, who played for the Red Wings from 1993-95.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Prior to last week’s shutout loss to the Hurricanes, Kyle Okposo enjoyed three straight multi-point games, and seven altogether this season. He has produced seven points in the last five games, and has five goals and 14 assists in 18 games this season, putting him on pace to shatter his previous career-high of 52 points. He’s currently in fifth-place in the NHL scoring race with 19 points; and his 14 assists are tied for third in the league. The highly skilled power forward has a chance to make the U.S. Olympic roster, therefore he has additional motivation to continue to succeed on the top line with Vanek and center John Tavares.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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