Jonathan Toews

Race for the Playoffs: Chicago’s pursuit runs into old nemesis Detroit tonight

With the season winding down and the playoff picture sorting itself out, we’ll be taking a look at the night’s games and how they’ll potentially affect the playoff races. This is ProHockeyTalk’s “Race for the Playoffs.”

Western Conference

1. Vancouver – 109 pts
2. Detroit – 97 pts
3. San Jose – 97 pts
4. Phoenix – 93 pts
5. Los Angeles – 92 pts
6. Nashville – 92 pts
7. Anaheim – 89 pts
8. Chicago – 88 pts
9. Calgary – 87 pts
10. Dallas – 86 pts

Chicago @ Detroit – 7:30 p.m. ET

Things are getting a bit dicey for the defending Stanley Cup champions. They’ve lost five of their last eight games and they’ve slipped back in the West race to eighth place and they’re just two points away from being in tenth. If the wins don’t start coming soon, they could find themselves not even getting a chance to defend their title in the playoffs. Tonight, they’ll get to face a Detroit team playing without Jimmy Howard among others. If there was ever a good shot for Chicago to get one over on their hated Original Six rivals, this would be it.

With Anaheim in action at home against lowly Colorado, they’ll need to win to try and keep pace with the Ducks. For Detroit, a win would do them well to keep the streaking Predators off their heels. Nashville is just five points out of the division lead and while they’ve been on a tear, they’ve jumped Chicago for second place and are locked into the middle of the pack in the playoffs. While five points is a good lead, the threat of being overtaken is still there.

Detroit has been coping with different nagging injuries all year and played well and they’ll need to keep that up through the rest of the season. This is the first of three meetings between Chicago and Detroit before the end of the season as they’ll conclude the year with a home-and-home series that concludes with the NBC Game of the Week on the final day of the season from Chicago.

Colorado @ Anaheim – 10 p.m. ET

Anaheim DucksAnaheim’s hot run of play of late has gotten them into seventh in the West and with a win tonight they can keep the pressure from the likes of Calgary and Dallas off of them and move slightly closer to locking down a playoff spot in the West. Corey Perry has been a man possessed of late seemingly carrying the Ducks on his shoulders. Over his last nine games, Perry has 11 goals and four assists and the Ducks have gone 7-2-0 in those games. Doing all that with a host of different guys in goal between Dan Ellis, Ray Emery, and recently returned from vertigo Jonas Hiller makes the feat all the more impressive. The Ducks top line of Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Bobby Ryan might be the best line in the NHL right now while Lubomir Visnovsky is quietly having one of the top seasons from a defenseman.

With all those positive things working, however, all it takes is a couple bumps in the road to knock you back out of the top eight in the West. Beating teams like 14th in the West Colorado is essential to keeping the good things going. If the Ducks allow this game to play like a trap game and lose, it could be looked back on as one of the more regrettable losses of the season. The way the Ducks are rolling right now, expecting a letdown here seems unlikely.

Wild lose Scandella to lower-body injury

ST PAUL, MN - OCTOBER 15: Marco Scandella #6 of the Minnesota Wild skates after the puck against Winnipeg Jets during the game on October 15, 2016 at Xcel Energy Center in St Paul, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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Ryan Suter may be in for a long night, at least if the first period of the Minnesota Wild – Buffalo Sabres game is any indication.

Suter logged 11 minutes of ice time in that opening frame after fellow defenseman Marco Scandella suffered a lower-body injury. The Wild aren’t certain if he’ll be able to come back in the game.

Onlookers believe that Scandella got hurt while he was tangled up with Nicolas Deslauriers of the Sabres.

Scandella is averaging a little under 20 minutes per game so far this season, so the Wild have to hope that this is just a minor issue.

Welcome Lindholm: Ducks send Theodore, Etem to AHL

LOS ANGELES, CA - SEPTEMBER 28:  Shea Theodore #53 of the Anaheim Ducks skates during a preseason game against the Los Angeles Kings at Staples Center on September 28, 2016 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The Anaheim Ducks finally hammered out a (sweet) deal with Hampus Lindholm, so now it comes down to some housekeeping.

Specifically, it means sending some fairly useful players with significant pedigrees down to the AHL on Thursday. The team announced that both Shea Theodore and Emerson Etem are bound for the San Diego Gulls.

Theodore, the 26th pick back in 2013, contributed a pretty assist to the Ducks’ 6-1 shellacking of the Nashville Predators last night:

It’s a cool story that Etem returned to the franchise that selected him 29th overall in 2010, yet he’s struggled to really find a niche in the NHL so far. At 24, there’s still time, though he likely feels a little anxious to become a full-time guy at the top level.

TSN’s Pierre LeBrun notes that Shea Theodore is likely to be on LTIR for “the foreseeable future,” which means that the Ducks aren’t forced to move Cam Fowler.

That’s great news for the Ducks. For Theodore in particular? The situation is not so great.

Red Wings will likely be without red-hot Vanek tonight

TAMPA, FL - OCTOBER 13:  Thomas Vanek #62 of the Detroit Red Wings gets ready for a face-off against Tampa Bay Lightning during a game at the Amalie Arena on October 13, 2016 in Tampa, Florida. (Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images)
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With a whopping 30.8 shooting percentage, a lot of things have gone Thomas Vanek‘s way since he joined the Detroit Red Wings. Thursday bucks that trend.

Puck luck isn’t what went away for Vanek; instead, he’s gotten a bad break with a lower-body injury that is expected to sideline him during tonight’s game against the St. Louis Blues.

The Detroit Free Press’ Helene St. James pegs it as possibly being a groin injury or hip flexor. The Detroit News’ Ted Kulfan leaves more toward it being a groin issue.

With eight points during his first seven games with Detroit, Vanek’s been a revelation, but that redemption story is now paused. It sounds like Justin Abdelkader will return to the lineup for the Red Wings, so maybe it isn’t all bad news for Detroit.

The Red Wings confirmed that he would be out later on in the evening.

Alzner: Capitals’ playoff letdown is ‘deep somewhere in our heads’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 10:  Sidney Crosby #87 of the Pittsburgh Penguins shakes hands with Matt Niskanen #2 of the Washington Capitals after the Penguins defeated the Capitals 4-3 in overtime in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Second Round during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Consol Energy Center on May 10, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
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The mood is a “little sour” in the Washington Capitals locker room right now, and the discomfort goes deeper than losing back-to-back games for the first time in more than a year.

With it being early in 2016-17, maybe the Capitals aren’t totally over falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins after a resounding run to the Presidents’ Trophy.

“Last year, we were just so hungry all over the ice, and that’s why we had so much success. We just haven’t been as hungry right now,” Karl Alzner said, according to the Washington Post. “I don’t know if it’s because deep somewhere in our heads, we did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us, so maybe it’s just taking some time to build back up and as the season goes on, we get better. I don’t feel that in the front of my head, but maybe deep in the back, that’s kind of what’s going on. We’re better than how we’ve been playing.”

Credit Alzner for his candor, because that’s a remarkable admission of vulnerability.

Buying in

Not every member of the Capitals look at a few bumps in the road as a bad thing. Braden Holtby told the Washington Post that “a little bit of adversity never hurts to build a team,” and considering the rigors of an 82-game season, he’s likely correct.

As CSN Mid Atlantic notes, Barry Trotz understands the peaks and valleys of a lengthy campaign … but he still expects his players to buy-in.

“We’ve got the right elements to do what we can do. But there has to be a level of everybody [being] all in. You can’t be half in,” Trotz said. ” … You can’t let your foot off the gas in this league or you find yourself in a hole sometimes.”

Climbing that mountain once again

One can relate to the Capitals’ troubles in a way.

A negative type might feel a bit like Sisyphus here, wondering if it’s worth it to roll that boulder up a hill all over again after that playoff loss pushed them down. “We did that all season long and it still didn’t work for us,” as Alzner said.

Maybe the Capitals are over-thinking this a bit.

They have a few days off to ruminate on things, but the compressed three-game road trip coming up might be valuable in demanding all of their thoughts.

It’s tougher to find time for an existential crisis when you face three away contests in Western Canada during just four days. From the sound of things, it might be the perfect type of challenge for this group.