Canadiens-Red Wings Preview
The Detroit Red Wings offered little explanation for why a club fighting to secure a postseason spot seemingly lacks energy amid such meaningful games down the stretch.
They're running out of time to sort things out.
Detroit opens a crucial three-game homestand Thursday night looking to avoid a letdown against a Montreal Canadiens team that could be getting P.K. Subban back.
The Red Wings (36-26-11) surged into March having won three in a row, but they've gone 4-6-0 this month and are now tied with Philadelphia for the Eastern Conference's final playoff spot. Most of the frustration stems from allowing the first goal in nine of those games, and they've had even more difficulty putting together a rally while giving up an average of 3.5 per game during that stretch.
Tampa Bay scored twice in the first period and added another early in the second Tuesday before routing Detroit 6-2. Coach Jeff Blashill pulled Jimmy Howard following the third goal, but Petr Mrazek wasn't much better in relief.
"Playing catch-up hockey is losing hockey. It's too hard in this league to come back against good teams," said Justin Abdelkader, who scored after combining for three assists in his previous two games.
"We've obviously been comfortable at home, so we've just got to come out and play well. Montreal has nothing to lose so they're just going to come out a little looser. They always play us hard. It's a big game for us."
The Red Wings are 7-2-1 at home since Feb. 6 and beat the Canadiens 3-2 at Joe Louis Arena on Dec. 10 to snap a seven-game skid in the series. Mrazek made 23 saves to earn that victory, but it's unclear if he or Howard will get the start in this matchup.
Mrazek sat out the last two because of an illness, and Blashill elected not to start him Tuesday. No matter who is in net, Howard knows Detroit needs to get out of its funk quickly with only nine games remaining and the Flyers holding one in hand.
"There's not going to be any knight in shining armor that comes over the fence here and through the door that's going to get the job done for us," Howard said. "It's got to come from within here."
Montreal (34-34-6) isn't lacking motivation despite needing what amounts to a miracle to reach the playoffs. Its 9-0 start is a distant memory and reigning Vezina and Hart Trophy winner Carey Price hasn't played since late November due to injury.
Subban has missed the last six after suffering a neck injury that forced him to be taken off the ice on a stretcher in a win over Buffalo on March 10. He's participated in practice this week, and coach Michel Therrien said there's a chance he could play.
The Canadiens lost four of their first five without Subban before beating Anaheim 4-3 on Tuesday. David Desharnais, who fractured his left foot Feb. 15, also has been practicing.
"You've got guys battling for positions next year, so every game is an audition," said winger Lucas Lessio, who scored his first goal in 11 games since being recalled from the AHL. "If we keep playing like that, I think we're going to win a lot more than we're going to lose."
Ben Scrivens will be in net for his second career start against Detroit. He has a 3.52 goals-against average in his last six outings.