It’s that time of year. The Red Wings are embarking on their annual swing through California, where they square off against the Ducks, Kings, and Sharks.
Yet the road trip doesn’t end there: two more games against Western Conference opponents still await them. Since these five contests may very well make or break the Red Wings’ season, let’s look ahead to each one of them in this single post.
Wednesday, January 4 @ Anaheim Ducks
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This will be the second and final match-up between the Ducks and Red Wings this season. The first was played at Joe Louis Arena on December 17; Tomas Tatar‘s first NHL hat trick spearheaded a comeback from a 3-1 deficit, and the Wings ultimately won that game 6-4.
The Ducks sport an excellent 11-4-2 home record as well as the league’s second-best power play. If the Red Wings want to win this game, it’s imperative they either stay out of the box or kill every penalty they take.
Anaheim, like Detroit, played a New Year’s Day game, though theirs wasn’t outdoors, nationally televised, or anything like that. They welcomed the Philadelphia Flyers to town, who proceeded to pepper goalie John Gibson all night. Gibson’s 51 saves, the most in Ducks history, and Ryan Kesler‘s fourth NHL hat trick propelled Anaheim to a 4-3 shootout win.
But prior to that game, the Ducks had lost four of five, with three of those losses coming in three-on-three overtime. Anaheim is an abysmal 0-7 in OT, so if the score is knotted after sixty minutes, I like Detroit’s chances of leaving Honda Center with two points.
Thursday, January 5 @ Los Angeles Kings
The Los Angeles Kings faced off against the San Jose Sharks on New Year’s Eve, their first game at Staples Center in three weeks. LA held San Jose to just 20 shots on goal and won 3-2, with Jeff Carter notching the game-winning goal.
Speaking of Jeff Carter, he has scored eight of the Kings’ past 21 goals. He’s also accumulated 20 goals so far this season, and not a single one of his teammates has half of that. (Yes, not even Anze Kopitar, who has shockingly scored only three times this season.) Consider LA’s results over the past five games in which Carter hasn’t scored, with the exception of that December 15 game butt kickin’ against the Red Wings:
– 3-1 loss at Edmonton – 2-1 loss at Vancouver – 1-0 loss at Boston – 1-0 OT win at Pittsburgh – 3-1 loss vs Carolina
Keeping Carter off the board, therefore, may significantly bolster Detroit’s chances of winning.
Like Detroit, LA suffers from scoring woes and a lackluster power play. But to their credit, they excel at physicality, shot suppression, and goaltending. Peter Budaj has assumed netminding responsibilities as a result of Jonathan Quick‘s injury. And he has played well—a .919 save percentage places him around the middle of the pack, but his 2.03 goals against average is good for sixth in the league.
Expect the Kings to stick to their physical, defense-first brand of hockey. Chances are the Wings will not score more than two goals in this game, so they’ll have to grind hard if they want to #BeatLA.
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Saturday, January 7 @ San Jose Sharks
The San Jose Sharks are lookin’ good after coming off their franchise’s first Stanley Cup Final appearance. Aside from the Columbus Blue Jackets and Minnesota Wild, the Sharks have been one of the best hockey teams of late, compiling an 8-2-0 record going into tonight’s game against the LA Kings.
The Sharks are 13-4-0 this season at SAP Center. So yes, all three California teams routinely beat their incoming opponents. Since the Red Wings were moved to the Eastern Conference in 2013, however, they have beaten the Sharks twice in three contests at SAP. Something’s gotta give.
The Hawks play pretty well in front of their faithful (notice a trend?), with a record at the United Center of 13-4-4. Even the best teams face a tall task in defeating them there. Chicago, though, is coming off a 4-1 loss in the Winter Classic and have lost five of their last six. Marian Hossa left December 20th’s game, a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators, with an upper-body injury—and his team hasn’t been the same since. But it’s entirely possible that he’ll return by January 10, rendering this moot.
In any case, the Hawks beat the Red Wings in both match-ups last season—by 5-2 and 4-1 finals—so let’s hope the Wings score more goals this time and not give up four or five.
Boy did Dallas look scary last year. But this year, a plethora of injuries, offensive and defensive woes, and their usual goaltending issues currently place them outside the playoff picture. The Stars moreover find themselves in the bottom half of the league in goals for, goals against, power play, and penalty kill efficiency. In fact, they’re probably fortunate to be just one point out of the West’s second Wild Card spot.
Dallas has been decent on home ice, where they sport an 11-6-3 record. Yet the Red Wings have left American Airlines Center seven straight times with two points, and they’ve won 11 of the past 14 match-ups against the Stars overall. Detroit should try to capitalize on Dallas’s weaknesses by adopting a shoot first mentality and scoring at least one power play goal. If they do these things, I like their chances of leaving AAC an eighth straight time with two points.