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Photo Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

WGD #6: Three things to watch for against Vancouver

The dreaded Western Canada road trip has come early this year. Starting in Vancouver tonight, the Red Wings will then had east to face the Flames on Thursday and the Oilers on Friday.

The task at hand, Vancouver has had a so-so start to the season, going 2-2-0 in their first four games. They made noise earlier in the week after naming Bo Horvat captain in a Ray Bourque-like jersey change at center ice. Horvat & co. are hoping to make it back to the postseason, evident by the big offseason moves made by general manager Jim Benning. This Canucks team now boast J.T Miller, Michael Ferland, Tyler Myers, and Quinn Hughes, all of whom are additions to the roster.

Fun fact from OddsShark.com – Detroit are 9-4 SU in their last 13 games.

Detroit can’t take this team lightly, seeing as Elias Pettersson and Brock Boeser are among the most dynamic duos in the league. They have star power and (hopefully) depth that should make them a much better team then in years past.

Projected Lines

Detroit Red Wings

LW C RW
Tyler Bertuzzi
TYLER BERTUZZI
Dylan Larkin
DYLAN LARKIN
Anthony Mantha
ANTHONY MANTHA
Taro Hirose
TARO HIROSE
Andreas Athanasiou
ANDREAS ATHANASIOU
Luke Glendening
LUKE GLENDENING
Valtteri Filppula
VALTTERI FILPPULA
Frans Nielsen
FRANS NIELSEN
Adam Erne
ADAM ERNE
Darren Helm
DARREN HELM
Jacob De La Rose
JACOB DE LA ROSE
Justin Abdelkader
JUSTIN ABDELKADER
DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
Dan DeKeyser
DAN DEKEYSER
Filip Hronek
FILIP HRONEK
Patrik Nemeth
PATRIK NEMETH
Mike Green
MIKE GREEN
Dennis Cholowski
DENNIS CHOLOWSKI
Alex Biega
ALEX BIEGA

Expected to be in tonight is Frans Nielsen, who has missed the past four games. His presence is greatly needed, as Detroit’s depth woes have never been more prevalent. Outside of the top-line, the only other place offense is coming from at 5-on-5 is the fourth line. The middle-6 has been virtually invisible. The second line in particular has been abysmal. The Wings can’t afford to lose the scoring touch of Andreas Athanasiou, having scored 30 goals in 2018-19.

The solution I would suggest: insert Evgeny Svechnikov next to Athanasiou. Alas, that is pretty much a pipe dream, as Jeff Blashill indicated Svechnikov will sit again if Nielsen is good to go. Sigh.

Else where, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Dennis Cholowski ride the bench for most of this game. He had one of his worst games as a pro on Saturday, essentially being bullied in his own zone. It was rough. Cholowski’s power-play upside helps keep him in, but there was no saving grace for Madsion Bowey, who appears to be a healthy scratch tonight, after an equally poor performance against the Maple Leafs.

Vancouver Canucks

As mentioned earlier, this is a new look Canucks team. There are a lot of new faces in the lineup, many of whom are still looking to form some chemistry. However, there is one connection Detroit will have to maintain — that of Pettersson and Boeser. The two young stars are electric together and can make offensively creative plays that can baffle team defenses. Those two are as dangerous as it gets.

Another player to keep an eye on is rookie blue-liner Quinn Hughes. The Michigan product is an elite level skater who can make jaw-dropping plays with his feet. Bound to be one of the league’s most entertaining players to watch, its quite bizarre he is only manning the second power-play unit. Having a player of his talent level on a PP2 should be a crime.

Three Thoughts

Vancouver’s Goaltender

The Canucks starter has not been confirmed as of this writing, but the most likely option is 22 year old Thatcher Demko. Vancouver’s actual starter in Jacob Markstrom is currently on a leave on absence. Therefore, Demko should be the man in the cage.

Demko has not played this season yet, in fact, he has only started 10 games in his NHL career. After an up-and-down two year run in the AHL, he put up an impressive .913 save percentage in a 9 game stint for Vancouver last season.

Middle-6 Offense

Its hard to put in to words how disappointing the middle-6 has been this season. Aside from one strong game from Luke Glendening, they’ve done nothing at even strength. The cries for Athanasiou to shift back to wing might have to happen now that Nielsen is back in the lineup. They need to do something different, because the current groupings are just not working out.

The problem is there isn’t much of a way to fix the middle-6 scoring issues, aside from moving names around and hoping something sticks. The fourth line is clicking too well to break up, and the team wants Svechnikov in Grand Rapids if possible.

Mantha’s Top Gear

I think we can all agree — Anthony Mantha was on another level in the Nashville and Dallas match-ups. Not only did he pot 5 goals over the opening weekend, but he dominated play for the entirety of both games, putting up 13 of his 23 shots on the season.

What felt different about Mantha was how engaged he was. I’ve never seen him move his feet the way he did. Mantha is near unstoppable when he consistently moves his feet because of the size factor. Eventually in the Dallas game, the Stars just realized they had no one capable of defending him.

However, Mantha has failed to reach that same gear in the past three games. Not that he has played bad — in fact, he’s been one of Detroit’s best players — but he has not played to the same level. Maybe it was never meant to be sustainable, yet, if Mantha can churn out a few more of those monstrous outings, that could make up the difference of the little goal support from the middle-6.

With the Canucks still trying to find their stride on defense, and an inexperienced goaltender in net, this might be Mantha’s best opportunity to return to his opening-weekend form.