– Over the next nine days, the Red Wings will face off with Central Division rival Columbus three times. How the Wings fare in those games will have a tremendous impact on their Western Conference playoff status.
The Blue Jackets have struggled to build on their success from last season, when they made their first playoff appearance in franchise history. This year, Columbus (32-32-13) is ranked 14th out of 15 conference clubs. The Wings hold a 2-0-1 record over the Blue Jackets, including a 9-1 win in Columbus on Nov. 11.
However, over their last 10 games, the Blue Jackets are 6-2-2, which has caught the attention of the Wings.
“They’ve been playing well, they’re going to play hard,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I think they come after you when they can, and they’re patient when they can’t. In saying that, it’s not about them at all. It’s just about us, in our opinion. We have to look after our game and continue to try to improve and we need points to get in the playoffs.”
The Red Wings have 93 points and are one point behind the Nashville Predators for the No. 5 seed. The Wings host Nashville on Saturday.
“We need to continue to keep our foot on the gas and continue to play our style of play,” goalie Jimmy Howard
said. “Everything will take care of itself, the standings and everything like that. So we just have to worry about ourselves and get ready for the playoffs.
“We can’t take them lightly. They always play us really hard, actually every single team in this league play us hard because of who we are and that we’re wearing the Red Wings across our chest, so we never get a night off, and don’t expect that tonight or the other two times we play them.”
A main focus for the Wings over the next week and a half will be stopping Jackets captain Rick Nash, who leads Columbus with 65 points. In three games against the Wings, Nash has been held to one goal and a minus-three rating.
Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom
said that shutting down Nash is a full-team effort.
“I think it’s not only that we’ve got our defensemen out there against him,” Lidstrom said, “we have forwards back check hard and putting the backside pressure on him that makes it harder for him to make plays and buy time with the puck.”
Babcock said the line of Pavel Datsyuk
, Johan Franzen
and Tomas Holmstrom
will be counted on to keep Nash off the score sheet. The Wings’ coach is interested to see how Franzen, especially, handles the role as he is still getting back into game shape for knee surgery.
“He’ll get a good challenge here,” Babcock said. “We’re going to have him head to head against Nash, so he’s going to have to play without the puck. That’s important for us, and that’s important for him to be able to handle that situation.”
HELM, WILLIAMS IN; CLEARY OUT:
Babcock confirmed that forwards Darren Helm
and Jason Williams will play Thursday, and Dan Cleary is still day-to-day with a groin injury.
Helm said that his sore foot should hold up after he had some skate modifications done to relieve pressure in the area.