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Photo Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

WGD #56: Three things to watch for against Columbus

For the first time since Jan. 10, Detroit isn’t entering tonight’s game on a losing streak. Following their 4-3 shootout victory over the Sabers, the Red Wings have officially concluded their nine-game winless streak. Now, their squad is looking to win both games of a back-to-back series for the first time since they opened this season on a two-game winning streak.

That’s right, Detroit hasn’t won a back-to-back series since they defeated both Nashville and Dallas back in October. Unfortunately for the Red Wings, they’re facing a team that has lost in regulation just twice since Dec. 8. During that span, the Blue Jackets have won 18 of their last 25 games and have averaged to score just under three goals per game (2.92).

Projected Lines

Detroit Red Wings

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
Patrik Nemeth
PATRIK NEMETH
Alex Biega
ALEX BIEGA
Filip Hronek
FILIP HRONEK
Madison Bowey
MADISON BOWEY
Trevor Daley
TREVOR DALEY
Gustav Lindstrom
GUSTAV LINDSTROM

Things just keep getting better for Detroit. Based on yesterday’s practice, it appears that Anthony Mantha could be inching towards a return to the lineup sometime next week. For Mantha, this is a major development in his road to recovery from his punctured lung, after initial reports suggested that he may miss the remainder of the season.

Until his return date is officially announced, Red Wings’ fans will just have to wait anxiously for their superstar forward to return. Following Detroit’s offensive explosion in Buffalo, coach Jeff Blashill isn’t expected to make any lineup changes for tonight’s game. Although, there’s still a small chance that Tyler Bertuzzi will be reunited on the top line with Dylan Larkin.

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Columbus Blue Jackets

DEFENSIVE PAIRINGS
Zach Werenski
ZACH WERENSKI
Seth Jones
SETH JONES
Vladislav Gavrikov
VLADISLAV GAVRIKOV
David Savard
DAVID SAVARD
Markus Nutivaara
MARKUS NUTIVAARA
Scott Harrington
SCOTT HARRINGTON

During Columbus’ hot streak since Dec. 8, their team has been led offensively by forwards Oliver Bjorkstrand and Pierre-Luc Dubois. Through their 25 games since that date, Bjorkstrand leads his team in goals (11) while Dubois leads the Blue Jackets in scoring with 24 points.

Unless Detroit is able to produce three goals or more during regulation later tonight, their team will be forced to find a way to slow down Columbus’ dynamic duo.

Three Thoughts

1.) Desperation to Lead Before 3rd Period 

Since Dec. 8, the Blue Jackets are tied for the least number of goals allowed (12) during the final 20 minutes among all 31 teams. In comparison, the Red Wings are tied for the third-most number of goals surrendered (33) in the third period during that same timeframe.

Despite producing the second-fewest number of goals (36) during the second period this season, Detroit will need to take the lead heading into the final frame in order for their team to have a chance to extend their winning streak to two games. With Columbus tied for the fifth-most goals (30) scored during the third period since Dec. 8, Detroit’s level of intensity will likely be tested late in the third during tonight’s showdown.

2.) Jimmy Howard Receives Nod in Second Game of Back-to-Back

Unlike last weekend, Red Wings goaltender Jimmy Howard will now play on the second night of Detroit’s back-to-back series. During his previous start, the 35-year-old allowed four goals on 39 shots in a 4-2 losing effort against the Rangers in the first game of their back-to-back series. Through 24 starts this season, it’s safe to say that Howard has certainly performed at an all-time low during his 14th season in the NHL.

Entering tonight’s game, the veteran goalie has generated a career-worst 4.12 GAA along with a miserable .884 SV%. To make matters worse, Howard’s last victory came at home against the Oilers back on Oct. 29. Despite his forgettable campaign, Howard will surely be trying his hardest to earn the Red Wings their first and only victory against the Blue Jackets this season.

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3.) Elvis Merzlikins Will Give Detroit Headaches Through 60 Minutes

Despite the Red Wings’ desire to enter the third period with the lead, Blue Jackets goaltender Elvis Merzlikins will likely complicate things for their squad later tonight. During his 15 games since Dec. 8, the 25-year-old has created a league-best .947 SV% along with the second-lowest GAA (1.73) among all goalies with at least eight starts.

Based on these spectacular results, Columbus has been able to allow the fewest number of goals per game (1.72) throughout the entire league since Dec. 8. Although, there’s one small bright spot for the Red Wings, as Merzlikins has generated just a .886 SV% while Columbus is on the penalty kill. So, the Red Wings need to draw a lot of penalties later tonight for their team to have any success against Merzlikins during their final matchup against each other until next season.