Before the CBJ puck drops: Detroit Red Wings

GAME 66: Detroit Red Wings

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29-22-13 — 5th place in the Atlantic Division

5-3-2 in last 10 games

 

SCORING RANKINGS

Detroit

Goals for: 2.61 goals/game – 18th in the NHL

Goals against: 2.67 goals/game – 15th

Columbus

Goals for: 2.84 goals/game – 8th in the NHL

Goals against: 2.77 goals/game – 17th

SINCE WE LAST MET (on Oct. 15):

Unlike last night’s opponent (Dallas), who we saw just last week, the season was barely a month old when Columbus and Detroit tussled. And what a strange, frustrating season it’s been in Motown.

From this vantage point, it appears that the Red Wings’ generation-long success story has finally caught up with them. Retirements on the blue line by the likes of Niklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski have left Ken Holland flailing around for a suitable replacement. He made a stab at Ryan Suter in the offseason, but Suter and Zach Parise had their buddy pact to go to Minnesota together. With no offseason Plan B, Holland was left to rely on Niklas Kronwall and a cast of B-listers.

That’s OK, because the forwards will carry the day! Right? RIGHT? Wrong. Captain Henrik Zetterberg has missed 20 games and counting due to injury – an injury reaggravated at the Olympics that likely will put him out for the season. All-world forward Pavel Datsyuk only has 39 games to his credit this season due to injury. Johan "The Mule" Franzen has 37 games under his belt. And it keeps going.

To get a sense of how bad it’s been for the Red Wings, consider this: They’ve played 64 games this season. Detroit has three skaters – Kronwall, winger Drew Miller and defenseman Kyle Quincy – who have played in 60 or more games this season. Everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, has been hurt this year in Detroit. It makes this "24/7" clip all the more meaningful.

Anyway, the Red Wings’ stars have been hurt, the rest of the league caught up with them when it came to scouting in Russia and Scandinavia…and they haven’t had a good draft pick in years, meaning that the farm system finally has started to run dry. No longer is a Jimmy Howard playing long enough in the minors to earn his Social Security checks before seeing the bright lights of the NHL. No, now it’s Danny DeKeyser getting signed out of Western Michigan and playing almost immediately at Joe Louis Arena.

You almost feel sorry for the Red Wings. Almost. And then you realize that they haven’t had a season this bad since the beginning of George H.W. Bush’s time as President of the United States. Besides, remember that "bad" in Detroit means that they could miss the playoffs. I bet half the fanbases in the NHL – Columbus included – would die happy knowing that missing out on The Dance was the worst it could be.

Top scorers in Detroit are:

– Forward Henrik Zetterberg (16 goals, 32 assists, 48 points)

– Defenseman Niklas Kronwall (7 G, 33 A, 40 pts.)

– Forward Daniel Alfredsson (14 G, 23 A, 37 pts.)

– Forward Johan Franzen (15 G, 19 A, 34 pts.)

– Forward Pavel Datsyuk (15 G, 18 A, 33 pts.)

In net, Jimmy Howard and Jonas Gustavsson have been splitting time. Both have a .912 save percentage, so I’ll suggest that it doesn’t really matter who’s starting tonight for the Red Wings.

WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:

The Red Wings are on the outside looking in at the playoffs, and the easiest way for Detroit to get in is to snag Columbus’ fourth Metropolitan Division slot through the new Wild Card seeding. As I said, they haven’t missed the playoffs since the 1989-90 season. They may be undermanned, but they are desperate and have a coach who knows how to win. Heck, Mike Babcock should win the Jack Adams (Coach of the Year) Award simply for keeping the Red Wings relevant despite the injury plague that they’ve sustained.

On the flip side, Columbus needs to beat Detroit back to hold its position. While this isn’t a divisional game per se, it is a playoff seeding game…and, as such, it’s one of those proverbial must-win "four-point" games. A Columbus win in regulation (two points for the CBJ, zero for the Red Wings) would be huge.

Lastly, there’s the strange and tragic suspended game last night in Dallas that the team needs to shake off. Columbus has had its share of weird and, yes, tragic games over the years – the types of games that shake a team from its stride and interrupt the rhythm of the season. Last night has the potential to be just that for the CBJ, but it can’t be. The team has to collect itself and move forward to snag that playoff spot.

WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:

Yesterday, I said that I’ll be watching for the offense to take off once again and play like a team that’s in the top third in the league in scoring. With yesterday’s truncated game, I don’t think that we really had a chance to see it happen. I’m pleased that Nathan Horton snagged a goal – he’s been absent from the scoresheet way too often since joining the lineup – and want to see the rest of the team reassert itself in the offensive zone. Detroit is a slightly better defensive team than Dallas (and Columbus), but not so much better than it’s an impossibility to think that Columbus could break out tonight.

So scoring it is, once again. Who’s going to put the biscuit in the basket?

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:

Home again at Nationwide! Here’s how FOX Sports Ohio will be covering the festitivites:

– Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" at 6:30 p.m.

– The puck drops at Nationwide Arena at 7 p.m., with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

– Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with postgame interviews, insight and analysis.

The games get more and more critical for the Blue Jackets as the season moves closer toward its conclusion. Enjoy the game, everyone!