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Oct. 20: Look Ahead in Hockeytown

by Craig Peterson / Detroit Red Wings
It will definitely be a battle when the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town this Thursday to face-off against the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena. (Photo by Getty Images)

DETROIT — Keep the ball rolling.

That is the Red Wings’ goal after taking five of a possible six points last week against two different Atlantic Division opponents.

Top line forwards Henrik Zetterberg, Gustav Nyquist and Johan Franzen will look to continue their success after combining for five goals and 10 points last week.

“The puck was bouncing our way. Mule and Nyquist were good at finding open spots,” Zetterberg said. “(They are) two pure goal-scorers so it’s easy to play with them. They always find open spots. Both working really hard too and creating a lot of chances by themselves.”

Franzen left Friday’s game in Toronto with leg spasms after scoring two goals in their 4-1 win at Air Canada Centre. He was a scratch Saturday in their 1-0 home win over the Maple Leafs. His health will have to be monitored in the days that follow, as his presence would be missed if he has to miss more time.

Goalie Jimmy Howard also sat out from action on Saturday night. He was not expected to play as Jonas Gustavsson was slated to make his first start of the season with the Wings playing on consecutive nights. Howard being placed on 48-hour goaltender injured reserve with a sore groin is cause for concern but Zetterberg is certain that some time off for a goalie that started the first four games of the season was well earned.

“Howie deserves a little break here,” he said. “Gustavsson came in and played unbelievable so we’ve got two good goalies here.”

Both goalies have played well through the first five games combining for the third-lowest goals-against average (1.40) in the NHL.

They have had some help from special teams though as the penalty kill has been a perfect 17-for-17 killing off penalties and is one of five teams yet to give up a power-play goal. Special teams will be the focus in the coming matchups, as the penalty kill unit will face two of the league’s top three power-play units in the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.

“It’s still a work in progress for us,” Zetterberg said. “Special teams is going to be real important. I think our PK has been really good. Power play bits and pieces has been good.”

While maintaining two of the most efficient power plays in the league, the Penguins and Flyers have two of the worst penalty-kill units. It’s a good sign for the Wings who have managed just two power-play goals in 21 opportunities. The matchups provide an opportunity for the Wings to work on the man-advantage and capitalize on their opponent’s weakness. Their ability to eliminate scoring threats on the penalty kill and generate production on the power play could prove to be the difference in the coming matchups.

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

Tomas Plekanec
Center  - MON
Goals: 4 | Assists: 3 | Pts: 7
Shots: 17 | +/-: 3
TUESDAY — at MONTREAL (5-1-0): Sitting atop the Atlantic Division, the Canadiens are tied for the league-high with 10 points through six games. It is the first of four regular-season meetings between these division opponents and the Canadiens will not host the Wings again until April 9. The Canadiens went 2-1-1 against the Wings last season despite being outscored 13 to 12 in those games. Montreal has given up the fourth-most goals (20) in the NHL but has produced an impressive record just two weeks into the season. Much of their success has to do with their own ability to generate offense, having scored 14 goals in their last four games.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Center Tomas Plekanec is the team’s leading scorer with four goals and seven points through six games and has recorded a point in all but one of their wins this season. Plekanec had the game-winning goal in Montreal’s season opener against the Maple Leafs. That gives him six game-winning goals in the last year; only Max Pacioretty has more for the Canadiens in that span with 11. Plekanec scored two goals and one assist in four regular-season games against the Wings last season.

Sidney Crosby
Center  - PIT
Goals: 4 | Assists: 5 | Pts: 9
Shots: 14 | +/-: 1
THURSDAY — vs. PITTSBURGH (3-1-0): Rookie NHL head coach Mike Johnston will lead the Penguins into their first of three regular-season matchups. The defending Metropolitan Division champions went 2-0-1 in this matchup last season and haven’t lost a game in regulation to the Wings since Dec. 13, 2011. The Penguins are averaging a league-high four goals per game in which seven different forwards have accounted for the team’s 16 goals. They have the most efficient power-play unit converting 47.1 percent of the time, however, the Penguins’ penalty kill is among the worst in the NHL having given up six goals on 22 penalties.

PLAYER TO WATCH: As reigning Art Ross Trophy winner — the NHL’s leader in points scored — from the 2013-14 season, Sidney Crosby is tied for the league-high in points with nine in four games. He scored 36 goals and 104 points last season, eclipsing 100 points for the fourth time in his eight-season career. Crosby has played against the Wings just five times since 2009, after a series of injuries and the recent lockout cut into his number of games. Crosby has recorded a point in six straight regular-season games, a streak that began back on April 9, when the Penguins defeated the Wings 4-3 in a shootout.

Wayne Simmonds
Right Wing  - PHI
Goals: 5 | Assists: 2 | Pts: 7
Shots: 18 | +/-: 3
SATURDAY — at PHILADELPHIA (1-2-2): The first of three meetings between these two teams, the Flyers will be looking for their first home win of the season after losing their first three at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers scored 13 goals in three games against the Wings last season, going 2-1-0 and winning the last matchup with a 5-0 shutout on Jan. 28. Philadelphia has the third-ranked power play in the NHL through five games, converting on 31.8 percent of their chances and getting seven power-play goals from four different players. Forwards Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek are tied with a team-high seven points.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Mr. Dependable for the Flyers, Simmonds has only missed three regular-season games for the Flyers since coming to Philadelphia in 2011 and played in all 82 games last season. Simmonds has jumped out to a hot start, scoring five goals in the team’s first five games. Much of his offensive production has come on the man-advantage where he finished third in the NHL last season with 15 power-play goals. Simmonds has already added three power-play goals to his total this season and is a dangerous threat on what has been a very efficient power-play unit thus far.

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