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Oct. 7: Week Ahead in Hockeytown

by Bill Roose / Detroit Red Wings
Since the 2010-11 season, Coyotes goalie Mike Smith's 13 shutouts leads the NHL, though the veteran has never managed to blank Henrik Zetterberg and the Red Wings. (Photo by Dave Reginek/Detroit Red Wings)

DETROIT – The Red Wings get a much needed early season breather with four days off after opening the new campaign with three games in four nights.

After two good wins over Buffalo on Wednesday and Carolina on Friday, the Wings were flat in a 4-1 loss at Boston on Saturday.

“We know what it’s going to take,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “This isn’t the first time we’ve ever had to deal with a back to back (games). We’ve been through these for years. It’s early in the season, there’s no reason to get down about it, beat yourself up. Put it behind you and get ready for Phoenix on Thursday night.’’

But after three games, defenseman Niklas Kronwall said the Wings are still looking to play a complete game.

“We have a lot to work on. Obviously the power play needs to be a lot better. The whole game in general (Saturday) was not very good. The way we came back (Friday) was good for us. Showed we can do it. It’s just about sticking with the game plan for 60 minutes.’’

Through three games, the Red Wings’ power play is 0-for-8. They’ve mustered 11 shots in 15:58 of power-play time. It was more of a concern in the loss at Boston than it was in the Wings’ wins where they at least chances were created through puck retrieval and increasing shots.

“The power play, if we get some goals there, it will help,” captain Henrik Zetterberg said. “Five on five will be tight. It’s not the first time it’s like that in this league. You got to have good special teams to score goals.’’

The Wings will practice on Monday and Wednesday before welcoming Phoenix and Philadelphia to Joe Louis Arena toward the end of the week. Straightening the power play will definitely be on the practice agenda, forward Daniel Cleary said.

“We need to get shots to the net and create traffic and get them moving around, and then we can start making plays,” Cleary said. “We have to work on a lot of things. It’s early in the season, but we have a few days to get a little rest and work on things Monday and Wednesday.’’

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

Radim Vrbata

THURSDAY – vs. PHOENIX (1-1-0): The Coyotes are in the middle of a five-game road trip – their longest this season – when they visit Joe Louis Arena this week. They’ll finish the current trip in Philadelphia on Friday and Carolina on Sunday. … Once operated by the league, the Coyotes enter this season under a new nine-member ownership group led by Canadian investment banker George Gosbee. Consistency and quality goaltender were staples of a Coyotes team that qualified for three straight postseasons. Then there was last season’s disaster when a defenseman (Keith Yandle) was the team’s leading scorer. … Goalie Mike Smith returns for his third season with Phoenix. The veteran netminder signed a six-year contract worth $34 million during the offseason. He had five shutouts last season, tying him with Jimmy Howard for the league lead among all NHL goalies. Smith’s 13 career shutouts are the most in the NHL since the start of the 2010-11 season. St. Louis goalie Brian Elliott is second with 12 shutouts, and Howard is third with 11. … Defenseman Zbynek Michalek led the Coyotes with 87 blocked shots last season and has led the Coyotes in blocked shots during five of the last six seasons. Through the first two games, he already leads the team with seven blocks. … Coyotes tough guy Paul Bissonnette is eligible to return from his suspension this week for leaving the bench during a preseason altercation. Though the league reduced his regular-season sentence to three games from 10, it’s unknown if he’ll be in the Coyotes’ lineup against Detroit.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Forward Radim Vrbata started the new season the way he finished the last – netting a natural hat trick leading Phoenix to a 4-1 win over the New York Rangers in last Thursday’s season-opener. Vrbata, who has scored 198 career goals, is the first NHL player to notch a hat trick in a season finale and the season-opener of the next campaign for the same team since hall-of-famer Luc Robitaille did it for the Los Angeles Kings in 1988. The Coyotes are now 73-17-9 in 99 games when Vrbata scores a goal. He has 11 goals and 13 assists in 39 career games against the Red Wings.

Mark Streit

SATURDAY – vs. PHILADELPHIA (0-3-0): For the second straight season, the Flyers have started 0-3. It’s only the fourth time they’ve opened a season with three straight defeats. The other two were 1994-95 and 1989-90. Philadelphia hasn’t opened a season with four straight losses. If the Flyers don’t begin winning soon, could Peter Laviolette be the first coaching casualty of the season? … Goalies Steve Mason and Ray Emery have been roughed up in the first week of the season. Neither veteran has claimed the starting role, which means the Flyers more than likely will ride a rotation. Mason has started twice, dropping decisions to Toronto and Carolina. Emery surrendered four goals in a 4-1 at Montreal on Saturday. The Flyers have also gotten off to a weak offensive start with just one goal each from center Vincent Lecavalier and Brayden Schenn, and defenseman Luke Schenn.

PLAYER TO WATCH: Mark Streit, the 35-year-old defenseman is starting fresh with a new team this season. The NHL veteran, who was drafted by Montreal in 2004, has two assists in three games, but recently said it will still take some time to adapt to the Flyers' system and to working with Luke Schenn before he is fully comfortable. The Flyers used their compliance buyouts on Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov to make the Streit’s signing possible in the off-season. Because he has only played seven seasons in North America, and hasn’t missed a game in three-plus seasons, the Swiss star believes he’s ready to jump-start his career on a Stanley Cup contender. There’s plenty of reason to think he can have a 40-assist season while becoming a plus-player for the first time since the 2008-09 season.

Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose

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