Red Wings-Sharks Preview
The Detroit Red Wings have revived their previously mediocre power play, and the now-potent unit is propelling them toward a strong finish.
They're also playing particularly well on the road, something they'll try to continue Thursday night against a San Jose Sharks team that boasts one of the league's best penalty kills.
The Red Wings (17-11-5) own the fifth spot in the Western Conference, three points ahead of the Sharks, who pulled into a tie for seventh with St. Louis after Wednesday's 4-0 win over Anaheim. Three straight victories - and five in six games - have moved the Red Wings within striking distance of a top-four seed, with the team's improved power play a big reason why.
Detroit has notched a power-play goal in eight straight games, scoring nine times on 34 chances (26.5 percent). The club had 14 goals on 98 opportunities (14.3 percent) in the previous 25 games, and was 0 for 36 in its first 10 road contests.
"We're doing a lot of good things even though we don't score on each and every one," said Pavel Datsyuk, who scored one power-play goal and assisted on another in Monday's 3-2 win at Phoenix. "It definitely feels like we've got some things going."
The Red Wings, who are seeking their first six-game road winning streak since Feb. 11-28, 2011, had gone six consecutive games without a power-play goal prior to the current streak.
"It's just little things," said Henrik Zetterberg, who assisted on Datsyuk's score. "I don't think we changed that much. It's just that when the puck goes in, you gain confidence."
Detroit will be matched up against one of the NHL's best penalty-kill units, with the Sharks stymieing 86.6 percent of opponents' opportunities. They've been even better at home, killing off 91.7 percent of chances at HP Pavilion, where they're 9-1-4.
San Jose has also developed a healthy habit of quick starts, especially at home. The Sharks own a 29-17 scoring edge in the first period this season, the only period in which they're not being outscored. They've also tied or led after the first 20 minutes in all 14 home contests.
"Our focus is to start fast. We have been starting fast at home," Joe Thornton said after Wednesday's win, which saw San Jose grab a 3-0 advantage after the first. "I think we were moving fast. We were creating offense, getting in on their D."
San Jose was also happy to see Joe Pavelski score a goal in his second straight game after going scoreless in the previous 10. Pavelski was part of a new line that also featured T.J. Galiardi and Ryane Clowe, who was playing in his first game after missing four due to a shoulder injury.
The Sharks have won six of eight meetings in the series but Detroit took a 2-1 shootout victory at San Jose on Feb. 28.
Logan Couture has tallied 10 points in 10 career games against Detroit, while Thornton has 16 over his last 11 contests against the Red Wings.
Detroit's Jimmy Howard, who is 6-1-2 with a 1.52 goals-against average in nine starts this month, has a 4.06 GAA in losing his last five starts against San Jose.