With Detroit getting healthy, should the rest of the West start worrying?

1 Comment

For the majority of the season, the Detroit Red Wings have been seemingly flying under the radar. With Vancouver sitting atop the Western Conference all season long, it’s been easy to forget about Detroit in the Central Division. The Wings have been struggling with injuries over the last couple of months. They’ve played for stretches of time without Pavel Datsyuk, Dan Cleary, Tomas Holmstrom, Brad Stuart, Chris Osgood, and Mike Modano. They’ve also had scares with Jimmy Howard and lately have had problems with Valtteri Filppula.

With having those names all cycling in and out of the lineup, the Wings have stayed on top in their Division and sit seven points behind the Canucks for the top spot in the West. Now they’ve gotten Datsyuk, Cleary, and Holmstrom back in the lineup and getting that crew all back together paid off well on Friday night against Boston in getting a 6-1 win on the road. Getting the band back together like that at forward should start making the teams chasing them in the Central as well as the Canucks who sit ahead of them feel very uncomfortable.

Datsyuk has been the guy that makes it all go. That’s not to downplay the work Henrik Zetterberg also does for the Wings, but with Datsyuk you have a player who’s just as dangerous when carrying the puck as you do when he doesn’t. His ability to steal the puck away from opponents is reaching the level of urban legend with the ways he can do it. He’s multiple time Selke Trophy winner for best defensive forward all while also being one of the team leaders in points.

When Datsyuk missed 19 games with a broken hand this season, the Wings went a pedestrian 10-7-2. Getting points in 12 of 19 games is good, but with those nine losses in the mix, the distance between them and the Nashville Predators was made to be a bit uncomfortable. Being without the likes of Dan Cleary (who was tops on the team in goals scored when he was hurt) as well as goalie agitator and net presence Holmstrom, the offense sputtered terribly.

Lately, the Wings’ issues have come defensively, something that captain Nick Lidstrom was willing to shoulder the blame for. Not having veteran Chris Osgood to spell the heavily worked Jimmy Howard with Osgood and having to rely on journeyman Joey MacDonald has made life in goal tough. Being without Brad Stuart on the blue line has made things difficult as well and youngster Jakub Kindl is getting a trial by fire.

The Wings aren’t without their problems. The rate they’ve been giving up goals of late is unacceptable, especially for coach Mike Babcock who demands tough defensive play from his blue liners. Nick Lidstrom is having a tremendous offensive season, but it’s a bit jarring to see him with a -1 plus/minus rating. We know that that comes with having to play a ton of minutes (Lidstrom averages 23:41 of ice time a night) but having him paired up with Niklas Kronwall for most of the season means he’s got to play a bit more heads up.

That said, if those are the tweaks that Babcock has to make to get the Wings to turn it on and get ready for the playoffs his job is a little easier than one might think. As long as their forward units stay together and healthy, Detroit can continue to lay in the weeds while the Canucks snag the accolades they’ve earned.

Goalie nods: Andersen back for Leafs

Getty
Leave a comment

Curtis McElhinney held up his end of the bargain.

Now, it’s back to Frederik Andersen.

After missing the last game (well, one-and-a-half games) to an upper-body injury, Andersen will resume his regular No. 1 duties when the Leafs take on the Preds in Nashville this evening.

Andersen was initially hurt Saturday in Buffalo, then sat out Tuesday’s big win over Florida — one that McElhinney called the biggest start of his career, and responded to by stopping 25 of 27 shots.

It’ll be interesting to see how Andersen fares in his first game back, and if he continue his strong month of March (6-1-2 in his last 10 games, with a .936 save percentage). The Preds have played well of late, winning seven of their last nine, and haven’t lost at Bridgestone since Mar. 4.

For the Preds, Pekka Rinne starts in goal.

Elsewhere…

Thomas Greiss, who’s lost his last two starts, gets another shot as the desperate Isles take on the Flyers. Philly will counter with Steve Mason, who’s riding a personal three-game winning streak.

Eddie Lack remains out with a neck injury, so Cam Ward starts when the ‘Canes host the Jackets. No word yet on a Columbus starter, but Sergei Bobrovsky has played three straight, including Tuesday’s win over Buffalo.

— The B’s are desperate for wins, so no surprise they’re riding Tuukka Rask into tonight’s tilt against Dallas. The visiting Stars have yet to name a starter, but Antti Niemi is likely.

James Reimer and Roberto Luongo are both out injured, so Reto Berra starts for the Panthers while newly recalled Adam Wilcox backs up. For the host Habs, it’ll be Carey Price.

— Another team desperate for points? The Bolts, who will go with Andrei Vasilevskiy after he was hooked from — then returned to — Monday’s wild comeback victory against Chicago. Petr Mrazek goes for the visiting Red Wings.

Alex Stalock, recalled yesterday, will bump Darcy Kuemper from the No. 2 gig in Minnesota, and make his regular season debut. He’ll be up against Craig Anderson in the Ottawa goal.

— The Ducks just keep winning with Jonathan Bernier in goal, so why rush back John Gibson? That will continue to be the plan tonight, as Anaheim visits Winnipeg. Michael Hutchinson starts for the Jets.

— It’s Martin Jones versus Cam Talbot when the Sharks take on the Oilers in Edmonton.

Pre-game reading: On Matthew Tkachuk, the NHL’s newest villain

2 Comments

— Up top, Mike Milbury and Keith Jones were none too impressed with the Los Angeles Kings’ response to Matthew Tkachuk last night in Calgary. Milbury took aim at Drew Doughty for turning the other cheek, while Jones ripped Jake Muzzin for turning down a fight.

— Tkachuk is the “villain we need right now,” according to Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News. After watching the 19-year-old’s busy night against the Kings, Kennedy writes: “The kid is mixing things up. He’s the perfect example of the guy you want on your team but hate when he’s on the other side. And he’s just getting started.” (The Hockey News)

Brock Boeser has a bright future with the Vancouver Canucks, but his journey to the NHL hasn’t been all roses. In 2010, Boeser’s dad was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, and in 2014, one of his good friends was killed in a car accident. “When you have experiences like that,” said his mom, “you can’t help but grow as you deal with them.” (National Post)

— TSN’s Gary Lawless wants the NHL to crack down on slashing. And we bet Johnny Gaudreau agrees. Johnny Hockey got chopped on the hand again last night. This time, the referee called a penalty. But too often slashing goes unpunished, just like hooking and holding used to. (TSN)

— A Q&A with Alex Radulov, who really wants to sign a contract extension with the Montreal Canadiens. “I would love to stay here. I like it here. I love the fans. I love this [training] facility. I come here even at night time; it’s all open doors. I can come and do whatever I need to. I really enjoy it, it’s really nice. You got everything here just to make yourself better.” All that said, contract talks are on hold for now. (Sportsnet)

Braden Holtby, fashion icon? Apparently, one of the best goalies in the NHL is also quite the clotheshorse. “I’ve always had an appreciation for things that are well-made, be it art or houses or carpentry, woodworking, clothes, I find the details very impressive for people putting their work into their craft. They see visions and they see those things come out, and you can see when someone cares about what they’re making. I think fashion’s a bit along the lines of that.” (Washington Post)

Enjoy the games!

Jets’ Enstrom undergoes second knee surgery in 12 months

Getty
1 Comment

There’s not much left for Winnipeg to play for — just five regular-season games left, and no playoffs on the horizon — so today’s news that Tobias Enstrom has undergone season-ending knee surgery isn’t a crippling development.

Can’t be good, though.

Enstrom’s had a difficult year health-wise and, at the time of surgery, was dealing with a concussion suffered on a Tom Sestito hit back in early March. Prior to that, he missed time while attending to a family matter in his native Sweden and, prior to that, was shut down late last season to undergo knee surgery.

It’s unclear if today’s procedure was related to the one Enstrom had last March.

It is worth noting that, at the time of last year’s surgery, head coach Paul Maurice noted the 32-year-old had been dealing with the injury for months.

“He’s been able to get through it because of blocks of days off. If he can get a two day block, he’d get a little better and it’s just getting worse,” Maurice said, per Global News. “It got to the point that he’s not recovering and he hasn’t been. He hasn’t been for almost a month now. He’s not recovering enough on his days off for the pain ever to subside.”

All told, Enstrom appeared in 60 games this year, scoring 14 points while averaging just under 22 minutes per night. Next season will be the last of a five-year, $28.75 million deal that carries a $5.75 million cap hit.

Lundqvist will start four of five remaining games

Getty
1 Comment

Henrik Lundqvist has had two tough starts since returning from injury.

The 35-year-old allowed five goals in his first game back, a 6-3 loss to Anaheim Sunday, and five more in his second game, a 5-4 OT loss to San Jose Tuesday.

But Lundqvist is still the No. 1 in New York, and for that reason he’s scheduled to start four of the Rangers’ five remaining regular-season games, with the hope he’ll be able to play his way back into form in time for the postseason.

Lundqvist was not happy after Tuesday’s loss to the Sharks, even though the point the Rangers gained earned them a playoff berth.

“I’m extremely disappointed right now,” he told reporters. “I’m glad we’re in, but I want to get the job done. I want the win. We found a way to lose this one at the end.”

With the loss, Lundqvist’s save percentage fell to .911 on the season. If it finishes at that number, it would be the lowest save percentage of his NHL career.

Antti Raanta‘s save percentage, meanwhile, sits at .922. In his last start, he shut out the Kings in Los Angeles.

The Rangers host Pittsburgh tomorrow and Philadelphia Sunday. Next week, they’re in Washington Wednesday, Ottawa Saturday, and then they close out their schedule at home to Pittsburgh Sunday.

Raanta will start one of the final two games.

The Rangers are likely to face Carey Price and the Montreal Canadiens in the first round of the playoffs.