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Red Wings will need strong defensive performance to beat Sharks

by Michael Caples / Detroit Red Wings
DETROIT -- The Red Wings will be facing one of the hottest teams in hockey tonight when they square off against the San Jose Sharks.

The Sharks, led by coach Todd McLellan – a Red Wings’ former assistant coach – have won six straight games, and currently reside in second place of the Western Conference. Meanwhile, the Wings are looking to put together a winning streak of their own. Detroit has won two straight, and are climbing back towards the top of the Central Division.

After Thursday’s morning skate, the Wings acknowledged that they have to play well defensively tonight.  The Sharks have a talented offensive team that added sniper Dany Heatley to a roster that already features Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau.

“Thornton and Heatley and (Ryan) Clowe are a strong line for them, but in my opinion, Patrick Marleau is playing better than anybody on that team,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said.  “So we’re going to have to be cognizant of both those groups.  They’re other guys out there, because of injuries, are like our guys, are energy guys, they’re going to work real hard, compete real hard.”

Some good news for the Wings is that members of their defensive unit are overcoming illnesses.  Both Brian Rafalski and Jonathan Ericsson will be back in the line-up tonight, and Rafalski will start with captain Nicklas Lidstrom against the Thornton line.  Derek Meech and Doug Janik will be healthy scratches.

Babcock said that his team is focused controlling the face-off dot against San Jose.  The Wings have struggled with face-offs early in the season, which Babcock attributed to roster changes and injuries.

“A key in tonight’s game is, do you want to chase the team around that has the puck, or do you want to have the puck yourself?” Babcock said. “So that will be a big part of our emphasis tonight, and it has to continue.”

Lidstrom said that he’s pleased with how the Wings have played of late.  Detroit is 3-0-1 in their last four games.

“I think we’re starting to play better, playing better as a group,” Lidstrom said.  “I think our defensive effort has really improved the last couple games, our penalty killing is better too.  We still want to build on it, and get better in those areas.”

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