DETROIT – The Red Wings are hoping to end their six-game home slide on Friday, but will have to get through Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals to do so.
The Capitals will travel to Detroit with a 10-8-1 record, boasting the No. 1 power play and No. 2 penalty kill in the league.
“They’re all good players, fun to watch,” Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “You like to watch them play and score against other teams. I don’t need to watch them score against us. We need to do a good job against them.”
Detroit is coming off its sixth straight home loss, a winless streak the Joe Louis Arena hasn’t seen since the 1996-97 season. Although the Red Wings have earned 12 points in their last 15 games, they couldn’t get the second point in their last three home contests.
“We’ve been able to get one point (at home) a number a times and we haven’t been able to get the second one,” Babcock said. “We’re taking steps here and need to continue to get better. Playing without the puck will be key for us.”
Ovechkin and linemate Nicklas Backstrom will be doing everything in their power to make sure that doesn’t happen. The two forwards anchor one of the top lines in the league, alongside left wing Brooks Laich and defensemen Mike Green and John Carlson.
“When you look at that roster and you see guys like Ovechkin and Backstrom, those are guys you really want to shut down and don’t give them any room,” defenseman Jonathan Ericsson said. “It’s a big challenge and I really embrace those challenges. It’s fun.”
Ericsson has missed the past 10 games with a dislocated shoulder and will return to Detroit’s lineup against Washington. The defenseman’s help will be needed to shut down Ovechkin, who has scored 14 goals in 17 games this season.
“He’s big, strong, flies out there with a lot of energy,” Niklas Kronwall said of Ovechkin. “Obviously he has a quick release and shoots the puck from anywhere and can really score from anywhere, sort of like (Steven) Stamkos in a lot of ways with his shot. But he’s got that power forward ability as well to run around and hit guys.
“He’s a real tough guy to go against. We have to do a real good job of playing real good team defense against him. Not just him, but we have to keep an eye on Nick Backstrom as well. He’s one of the more skilled guys in the whole league, setting guys up. So we need to play very solid defense to be able to have some success.”
Backstrom leads Washington with 15 assists, centering the team’s first line with Ovechkin. The pair has accounted for 41 points.
Washington’s special teams also poses a threat to the Red Wings, as its power play and penalty kill are ranked at the top of the league, thriving under Ovechkin. The forward has accounted for seven power play goals this season, only four fewer than the entire Detroit roster.
“He can shoot it from anywhere,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “You got to expect the unexpected. You know he’s a shooter and everyone’s trying to get him the puck. Whether he’s coming in on his off wing of not, he tries to put as many pucks on net as possible. He also likes to use the D as screens, pulling it through their feet or toe-pulling it and trying to shoot through their legs. It’s going to be important for us, especially the D to get stick on pucks.’’
Despite the winless streak at home, Detroit took quite a few positives from the 3-2 shootout loss to Winnipeg on Tuesday. The Red Wings killed all three penalties they picked up against the Jets, which bodes well as they prepare for the No. 1 power play in the league. Detroit also outshot the Jets 43-21, and notched two power-play goals after going 1-for-18 on power plays in their previous six games.
“I think we played pretty well last game,” Ericsson said. “We gave up a couple of big scoring chances, but that’s it. Things are going to turn around. I think we’re close. It’s been better lately. We just have to stick with it and it’ll come.”