One day I hope I can write one of these pre-games in a positive mood, but the Red Wings continue to find new ways to make things difficult on themselves. They have just five games left in the 2015-16 season and as of now they remain on the outside looking in.
They enter tonight in ninth place in the Eastern Conference and it’s starting to look like they need to catch the Bruins, not the Flyers. They are two points behind Philadelphia for the final Wild Card spot (but, Philly has a game in-hand) and they are just one point behind the Bruins, who opened the door for us on Tuesday, but we politely declined. Thankfully the Bruins are in St. Louis tonight—the Blues have won five in a row, allowing just one goal over that span—I wish we could borrow one of their goalies right now.
Tonight will be the second meeting of the season between the Red Wings and the Wild. Minnesota took the first game 3-1 back in late December and have won six of their last seven games. However, the one loss came last night to a below-average Senators team. We understand the frustration of losing to a team we should beat…Let’s break this thing down!
THE RED WINGS
Despite using these lines in Thursday’s practice, head coach Jeff Blashill would not commit to these trios being final. The only change that was made from Tuesday’s loss was Brad Richards to the second line, Anthony Mantha to the fourth. Does it make sense? Not to me personally. No. I think Mantha has looked fine in that spot, but I understand moving him down, but to elevate Richards is a bit questionable. After a great game on Tuesday, I thought someone like Gustav Nyquist might get a look with Pavel Datsyuk but that Nyquist-Riley Sheahan–Tomas Tatar line has been solid so I can understand not breaking them up.
The problem with this team right now is, despite having multiple centres on the roster, it doesn’t look like we have one that is a bonafide No. 2 centre, which is why I think Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg remain on different lines. They dominated games together earlier in the season and we could use a bit of that at this point in the season, but I wouldn’t expect to see it.
On the backend, things are status quo. And by status quo I mean Jonathan Ericsson is still in the lineup and Brendan Smith is still in the press box. I understand Ken Holland wanting to avoid rental players at the deadline, but after watching this team’s defensive zone play in the last few games, we definitely could have used a guy like Dan Hamhuis. Be sure to check back after the morning skate for any potential lineup updates.
Up front the Wild are an average bunch led by Zach Parise, who has really heated up in the last few weeks. They will likely be without Thomas Vanek and deadline acquisition David Jones. Parise and Mikko Koivu have been leading the way, the way they’re expected to. Parise has six goals in his last four games and nine points (6G / 3A) in his last nine. Koivu, who is not much of a goal scorer, has two goals and seven assists (nine points) over that same span.
On the blueline, they are a mix of experience and inexperience. Ryan Suter once again leads the NHL in minutes per game, playing nearly 30 minutes a night (28:39 TOI/GM) through 78 games. When you play that much, you’re bound to have plenty of offensive opportunities and Suter has cashed in with eight goals and 41 assists (49 points) this season. Jared Spurgeon, who plays with Suter, left last night’s game early in the first period, so he may not suit up this evening. The other key member of their backend is Matt Dumba. The 21-year-old was drafted seventh overall in 2012 and gets it done at both ends of the rink. He has plenty of offensive upside and you better keep your head up when he is on the ice, just ask Patrick Kane.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Unsurprisingly, Blashill announced that Jimmy Howard will start tonight. Petr Mrazek has been simply awful recently and Howard has been significantly better. He stopped 18 of 20 shots after replacing Mrazek in Tuesday’s loss. The 32-year-old has gone 4-5-1 with a 3.04 GAA and .899 SV% since the All-Star Break, which is when Mrazek started to stumble. Overall, the goaltending needs to improve if the playoff streak is going to live on. Howie is 6-5-1 with a 2.68 GAA and .904 SV% in 13 starts at Joe Louis Arena.
With Devan Dubnyk starting the last seven games, including last night’s loss to Ottawa, look for Darcy Kuemper to get the call for the Wild. He has only made five starts since the All-Star Break, going 1-4-1 with a 2.86 GAA and .898 SV%. It might be a while before they announce their starting goalie, but if it is Kuemper, he is 3-3-3 with a 2.48 GAA and .915 SV% on the road.
IN THE LAST MEETING…
Not only are we all hoping for a better result, a better result is a MUST. The Red Wings are in big trouble, but if they win tonight, they could find themselves in third in the Atlantic Division.
WHERE TO WATCH
Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m ET at Joe Louis Arena in “The D”. You can watch it on Fox Sports Detroit-plus. If you aren’t near a television, you can catch it on the Radio with WXYT-FM 97.1 The Ticket.
Also, make sure to follow us on Twitter; we’ll have live tweets, GIFS, and all the fun stuff that a topical social media platform has.