The Red Wings (3-2-0) lost their first two games of the season in ugly fashion and it seemed as if this may be a rough season and could be the year that Detroit finally misses the playoffs. Since then, they’ve silenced some critics by winning three in a row on the back of strong goaltending and goal-scoring.
Detroit was outscored 10-5 in their first two games, but has tallied 12 goals for and just five goals against since. The Red Wings finally outshot their opponent in last night’s win over the Predators, that’s the first time that has happened in this young season. Detroit’s puck possession has been a bugaboo early on, but hopefully the Nashville game was a sign of things to come.
Tonight the Red Wings welcome the San Jose Sharks (3-2-0) to town for the first of two meetings this season. Over the last three years the Red Wings are 2-3-1 while averaging just 2.00 goals for and 2.83 goals against per game against the Sharks. San Jose went all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, but they haven’t been off to the best start. They are 17th in league scoring and tied with the Red Wings at 13th for goals against. However, a lot of that can probably be attributed to the Sharks starting with five of their first six games on the road.
Let’s take a look at tonight’s lineups and starting goalie matchup.
THE RED WINGS
The Red Wings will likely have an optional skate, if any skate at all because of the back-to-back, so we likely won’t hear too many lineup updates until later this afternoon. After a great win vs. the Predators, don’t be surprised if Jeff Blashill sticks with the lineup that got it done last night, which means Andreas Athanasiou and Xavier Ouellet will remain in the press box.
This might blow your mind, but Jonathan Ericsson led all Red Wings’ skaters with a 72.97 CorsiFor% at even strength last night and the “O.M.G Line” was Detroit’s best possession line. Don’t get used to that. Ryan Sproul and Brendan Smith were the only negative possession players on the team, but Sproul looked solid in his season debut, especially on the power-play.
The biggest bright spot from last night’s game was the Justin Abdelkader-Frans Nielsen-Dylan Larkin line. Larkin has been struggling to start the year, but that line was dangerous all night, which is good news for the Red Wings, who need Larkin to start producing. It was also great to see Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist get on the scoreboard as well. Detroit needs both of them to return to the point producers that we saw in 2014-15 and so far so good—Tatar has two points (1G / 1A) and 14 shots on goal while Nyquist has collected five points (1G / 4A) in the first four games. All good news for Detroit.
The Sharks are a deep team, but their early-season point producers are exactly who you’d think they are. Brent Burns leads the team and the NHL in points with nine (3G / 6A) while Joe Pavelski’s seven (2G / 5A) and Joe Thornton and Logan Couture’s five follow closely behind.
Burns has become one of the best offensive-defenseman in the NHL, but Detroit limited to just one assist in two games last year. He leads one of the deepest bluelines in the NHL, which includes shutdown defenseman Paul Martin, an unreal second-pair in Canadian Olympian Marc-Edouard Vlasic and Justin Braun and their biggest improvement from last year was added the underrated David Schlemko to the third pair with Brendan Dillon. There isn’t one bad pairing on this unit.
Up front, the Red Wings need to slow Joe and Joe down. Pavelski is one of the best goal scorers in the NHL and Thornton has been one of the best setup men for many years. Tomas Hertl is a quality, young winger who rounds out the top line and their top-6 is capped off by the aforementioned Couture, offseason acquisition Mikkel Boedker and maybe the best player you’ve never heard of Joonas Donskoi. Their depth is definitely going to be an issue for a lot of teams, especially a Red Wings team on a back-to-back. When you can roll out Patrick Marleau on your third line, that’s not too bad.
BETWEEN THE PIPES
With Petr Mrazek starting last night and facing 33 shots, look for Jimmy Howard to make his second start of the week tonight. If Howard would have struggled against the Rangers this probably would have been a difficult decision, but Howard gave Blashill and Red Wings fans a ton of confidence in him after stopping 32 of 33 shots in Wednesday’s win.
Tonight would be Howard’s first start on home ice and he was much better at Joe Louis Arena than he was on the road last year. In 15 starts and one relief appearance at the Joe, Howie was 8-5-1 with a 2.44 GAA and .912 SV%. Howard did however struggle against San Jose last year, allowing three goals on just 14 shots in a losing effort.
For the Sharks, expect to see Martin Jones. The 26-year-old was excellent in 2015-16, but this year has gotten off to a rough start. Martin has gone 2-2-0 with a 2.79 GAA and .887 SV% in four starts and comes in having lost two in a row while allowing a combined eight goals.
WHERE TO WATCH
Puck drop is at 7:00 p.m. ET at Joe Louis Arena. You can watch the game on Fox Sports Detroit or listen to it on 97.1 FM The Ticket.
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