Photo Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

WGD #70: Three things to watch for against Tampa Bay

The Red Wings biggest challenge yet has arrived. Tampa Bay has won 16 straight games against Detroit, dating all the way back to game 4 of the 2016 playoffs. The mastermind behind the Lightning operation — Steve Yzerman — is now on the other side, obviously, but the on-ice talent didn’t come with him.

With 43 wins on the season, Tampa won’t best last year’s 62-win campaign, but this new iteration may be better and more equipped for the playoffs. Subtract J.T Miller and add Kevin Shattinkirk, Patrick Maroon, Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow.

Projected Lines

Detroit Red Wings

Filip Zadina is nearing a return from a fractured ankle but it won’t happen tonight. At the very least, the Czech sniper has started skating with the team again. Meanwhile, Darren Helm is pushed up the depth chart to add speed and work ethic to the top-6.

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Dmytro Timashov still seems to be on the fourth line. In limited minutes so far he’s impressed. Despite being a smaller guy in stature, he’s proven to be a strong puck protection winger who can extend plays. The wait shouldn’t be long until he starts seeing an up-tick in minutes.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Steven Stamkos will be sidelined for 6-8 weeks following surgery on a core muscle. He’ll be missing in action up until the postseason. Nevertheless, Tampa still boasts two dynamic, two-way centers in Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli. If any team can survive the loss of a player like Stamkos, it’s this one. The depth up-front is insane.

On the back-end Zach Bogosian is a new-comer. After an ugly ending in Buffalo, Bogosian opted to sign with Tampa as a free-agent, with hopes of winning a Stanley Cup.

Three Thoughts

1.) JBB goes all-in

The heir apparent to Yzerman in Julien BriesBois has done an excellent job since manning the helm as general manager. That’s clear as day with the way Tampa has performed down the stretch. While he certainly played a large role in constructing last year’s President Trophy winning team, that was mostly to the credit of Yzerman.

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But this time around BriseBois doing’s are much more evident. This Tampa team has enough to win it all, which is why he doubled down. Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow are solid, underrated players, but were they worth a first round pick each? That’s up for debate, but no doubt BriseBois pulling the trigger on the moves speaks volumes to how much he believes in their chances.

2.) Feel the Bern

Jonathan Bernier’s bid for team MVP is all but locked up. He proved once again on Friday why he’s the backbone of this group with a 32-save, .970 save percentage performance against Chicago. Good enough to earn his fourteenth win, which is mind-boggling on a 16-win team.

According to Evolving Hockey, Bernier has been worth 2.2 wins above replacement, which ranks eleventh in the whole league. That is miles better than his counterpart Jimmy Howard who ranks dead-last with a WAR of -1.8. Because of Howard’s major negative impact, the Red Wings are barely breaking even despite having one of the better netminders in the game.

3.) Game 3 of 2016

Just the thought that it has been four years since the Red Wings last beat Tampa Bay is staggering. Unlike Western Conference opponents, who Detroit only faces twice a year, the Wings get four cracks a season at beating Tampa.

Going back to that last win, the key contributors are no longer on the roster. The two goal scorers in the 2-0 win were Andreas Athanasiou and Henrik Zetterberg. Zetterberg, of course, is done playing pro hockey with a back injury. While Athanasiou on the other hand was dealt to Edmonton at the trade deadline. If the long losing streak ends today, it will have to come on the shoulders of a new hero.