Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski (USA Today Sports)
The Red Wings’ “Farewell season at the Joe” started with two roads games in Florida, but they return to Detroit tonight for the final home opener at Joe Louis Arena.
The first two games did not go as the Red Wings would have liked. The season started with a 6-4 loss to the Lightning and followed that up with a 4-1 loss to the Panthers. Detroit has notoriously been a strong possession team, but through two games they are the second worst possession team in the NHL, with a 43.02 Corsi For% (per corsica.hockey). It’s still early and they have played two of the better teams in the Eastern Conference in their first two games, so there should be better days ahead.
When it comes to home openers, the Red Wings have been great. They won their first game at the Joe last year 4-0 and have won five of their last six home openers while averaging 3.00 goals for and 1.17 goals against per game. To be honest, that really doesn’t mean anything, but it’s a nice stat to give Red Wings fans some hope heading into tonight’s meeting with the Ottawa Senators.
Ottawa is off to a 2-0-0 start, having beat the Maple Leafs and Canadiens to start the year, both needed extra time. Last year, Detroit was 3-1-1 against the Senators, averaging 2.60 goals for and 2.40 goals against per game.
Let’s take a look at tonight’s projected lineups and starting goalies:
THE RED WINGS
Morning Skate Update: Coach Blashill obviously did not read this pregame report before taking the ice for today’s gameday skate. Athanasiou will remain in the lineup tonight, but will move to the fourth line with Abdelkader moving back up. There were some other minor tweaks as well, which include swapping Zetterberg and Sheahan as well as Ouellet and Marchenko
After losing on Saturday, the Red Wings got Sunday off, so there is no word whether or not they will make any lineup changes or adjustments to their line combinations for tonight’s game.
On Saturday we saw Andreas Athanasiou play on the top line and it was nice to see him get ample playing time (14:59 at even-strength), but he didn’t stick out as much as he normally does. Hopefully head coach Jeff Blashill doesn’t make a knee-jerk decision and move Athanasiou from that line after just one game.
One line we probably won’t see changed is the trio of Gustav Nyqust-Darren Helm-Thomas Vanek, who have been the Red Wings’ best line so far. With that said, analytically speaking, the trio of Tomas Tatar-Dylan Larkin-Riley Sheahan are the only three Red Wings’ forwards with positive possession numbers. While Larkin is leading all Detroit forwards with 17:51 TOI per game, Tatar’s usage has been disappointing. His possession numbers are elite and all he needs is more opportunity, but hasn’t gotten it early in the season.
With Niklas Kronwall out, the Red Wings blueline is struggling. Mike Green was the best defenseman against the Lightning, but looked out to lunch vs. the Panthers. They are a different team when Green is playing well and they need consistent Thursday-like performances from him if they’re going to be successful. Collectively as a group, the blueline has struggled mightily to start the season and will need to be better across the board. Some poor pinches have resulted in goals against early on. You aren’t going to go anywhere while giving up 5.00 goals per game. Expect a much better effort with the Joe behind them tonight.
Morning Skate Update: The only change the Senators will make from the lines I posted this morning is to get Matt Puempel into the lineup for Phil Varone. Puempel hasn’t appeared in a game this season, but he is a native of nearby Essex, Ontario (near Windsor) so the Senators will have him make his season debut tonight in Detroit.
The Senators are dangerous offensively, but like the Red Wings, they have been exploited defensively early the season.
Up front, the Senators’ top-6 is dangerous, but their bottom-6 drops off in a big way. Their top line of Mike Hoffman-Kyle Turris-Mark Stone have been together for a few seasons and have had a lot of success together. So far this season Turris has two goals, Stone has two assists and Hoffman has been held pointless. Last year, this line combined for four goals and five assists in five games vs. the Red Wings. Bobby Ryan, the true goal scorer on their second line also had three goals and one assist of his own vs. Detroit last year and he has found some great chemistry with newcomer Derick Brassard early in the season. Detroit will have to contain those two lines and if they can do that, they can win. Ottawa has just one goal from their bottom-6 so far.
In addition to stopping the top-6, you obviously need to slow Erik Karlsson down. You can’t stop him, you can only contain him. Karlsson has one goal and three assists in the first two games, but no other Senators defenseman has a goal.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
Morning Skate Update: Petr Mrazek was in the starter’s crease at the morning skate so look for him to get the nod for the third straight game and Andrew Hammond will make his season debut for the Senators.
Hammond has three career appearances vs. Detroit—2-0-0 with a 0.78 GAA and .966 SV%. Mrazek was 2-0-1, 1.95 GAA and .930 SV% vs. OTT last yr
— Brock Seguin (@Brock_Seguin) October 17, 2016
Detroit will definitely want to get Jimmy Howard into a game soon, but I think Mrazek will get the home opener. He was 2-0-1 with a 1.95 GAA and .930 SV% against the Senators last year, while Howard wasn’t as successful—1-1-0 with a 2.51 GAA and .915 SV%. Also, if you look ahead Detroit is in New York to take on the Rangers on Wednesday and Howie was great against them last year. He was 0-1-1 despite posted a 1.51 GAA and .939 SV% against the Rangers.
If I’m Blashill, I’m definitely going Mrazek tonight and Howard vs. the Rangers. Detroit needs a win on home-ice to give the fans something to get excited about and Mrazek gives them the best chance. Mrazek’s 2016-17 numbers don’t tell the real story. Mrazek has an ugly 4.06 GAA and .889 SV%, but he has been great. He’s given up a combined eight goals in two games, but if it weren’t for some miraculous saves, Detroit may have given up seven or eight goals in each of the first two games.
As for the Senators, they announced that Andrew Hammond would start one of their back-to-back games on Monday and Tuesday. Hammond has started two games against Detroit over the last two years and Craig Anderson has had his fair share of struggles vs. the Red Wings.
Check back after the morning skates to see the confirmed goaltending matchup.
The Farwell to the Joe season truly starts tonight with the final home opener at Joe Louis Arena. Fox Sports Detroit put together a little #Farewell2TheJoe promo that will give you goosebumps.
WHERE TO WATCH
Puck drop is at 7:30 p.m. ET at Joe Louis Arena! You can watch it on Fox Sports Detroit and TSN5 if you are in Canada or listen to it on 97.1 FM The Ticket.
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