NHL Extra: Breaking down Blackhawks vs. Red Wings

Looking for the numbers breakdown for how these two teams stack up? Look no further as we’ve got you covered as the Blackhawks take on the Red Wings at 12:30 p.m. ET from United Center in Chicago.

Insider’s Preview

CSN Chicago’s Tracey Myers breaks down how today’s game for Chicago is “one last biggest game of the year” as Chicago hopes to clinch a playoff berth with a win.

Team scoring

Detroit can score some goals. They’ve tallied 257 times this year, good for third best in the NHL. They also average 3.12 goals per game, an average that sits second best in the league behind Vancouver. One thing working against them is that their leading point man Henrik Zetterberg is out for this game with a knee injury. That moves the point production pressure to 40 year-old defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom is second on the team in points with 16 goals and 46 assists. Not bad for a guy they thought was looking over the hill last year. Pavel Datsyuk (22 goals, 36 assists) will lead them from the forward spot and hope to get Johan Franzen (26 goals) and Dan Cleary (25 goals) going to try and keep the Blackhawks out of the playoffs.

Chicago can score too though. The Blackhawks have scored 255 goals this year, fourth best in the NHL while averaging 3.07 goals per game, also fourth best in the league. They’re led by three guys that have notched over 70 or more points this year in Jonathan Toews (32 goals, 44 assists), Patrick Kane (27 goals, 45 assists), and Patrick Sharp (34 goals, 36 assists). Marian Hossa isn’t doing too bad either with 25 goals and 31 assists of his own. You’ll see combinations of those guys working throughout the afternoon all over the ice.

Goaltending

Chicago is led by Corey Crawford in goal and while that seemed like a bad idea at the beginning of the year it’s been working out great for the Blackhawks all season. Crawford is 33-17-6 this season with a 2.27 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. When Antti Niemi was let go by the team in the offseason, many wondered if the tandem of Crawford and Marty Turco would be able to give them the same kind of great work in goal that Niemi and Cristobal Huet did last year. Turns out Crawford’s been just as dynamic as Niemi. Should Turco have to jump into the game, you know when he’s not busy making cheeky bets with fans, he’s been average. Turco’s 11-11-3 with 3.03 goals against average and a .897 save percentage.

For Detroit, it’s all about Jimmy Howard and whether or not he can get the defense to help him out. After a tremendous rookie season last year Howard’s come back to earth a bit. He’s still getting the wins, obviously, as he’s 36-17-5 this year but with a 2.78 goals against average and a .908 save percentage there’s a bit left to be desired there. Should Howard run into trouble, there’s no Chris Osgood there to bail him out. Instead it’s Joey MacDonald with his 15-5-5 record and a 2.58 goals against average and .917 save percentage. He’s been good since coming up to take Osgood’s spot but he’s not the guy the Wings want playing in a big game.

Special teams

This game features a pair of the NHL’s best power plays. Chicago’s power play checks in scoring 23.4% of the time, a mark good for fourth in the league. Meanwhile Detroit is right behind them in fifth scoring 22.3% of the time with the man advantage. While they’re both good at scoring, stopping the opponents power play presents a different story.

Detroit’s penalty kill is effective 82.2% of the time, a mark good for 17th in the NHL. Chicago’s could use some work as they stop 79.2% of the power plays they face, the sixth worst mark in the NHL. If the Blackhawks have an Achilles’ heel it comes shorthanded. A parade to the box this afternoon for the Blackhawks would not bode well.

Injuries

Both teams come into today’s game dinged up. Detroit will be without forward Henrik Zetterberg and defenseman Niklas Kronwall. Chicago is all sorts of maligned as they’ll likely be without forwards Dave Bolland and Troy Brouwer. Tomas Kopecky and Patrick Sharp are playing through injuries as Sharp recently returned from his own knee injury.

Streaks and standings – Playoff decision edition

The task is simple for Chicago. If the Blackhawks win, they’re in the playoffs. A win of any kind be it in regulation, overtime, or a shootout the Blackhawks will end up fifth after navigating through all the tiebreakers. That would mean they’d face Anaheim in the first round as the Ducks have locked down home ice in the first round.

If Chicago loses in overtime or the shootout, they’ll have to sweat out tonight’s Dallas-Minnesota game as a Stars win would put them in the playoffs over them. If Chicago gets the loser point and makes the playoffs, they’d end up seventh in the West and face San Jose in the playoffs. If Chicago loses in regulation and Dallas loses, then Chicago slots in at the eighth seed.

Detroit is already locked in as the three seed in the West. If Detroit wins, they’ll draw Phoenix in the first round, if they lose they’ll have to face Nashville. Neither of those matchups look to be all that appealing to the Red Wings.

NHL Extra

If you’d like to ask James and I questions and get our thoughts on today’s game, you can join us for NHL Extra online and follow along with the action that way. To join us for NHL Extra click here. We’ll be kicking things off at 12:30 p.m.

PHT Morning Skate: Matt Duchene helps fan land a prom date

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Matt Duchene may be having a tough season, but he picked up a terrific assist on Thursday night, as he flipped a puck to a fan and helped her get a prom date in the process. (Top)

–Sportsnet breaks down the five longest individual playoff streaks. Henrik Zetteberg has the longest active streak, but that’s about to come to an end in the next few weeks. After the Red Wings are officially eliminated from the playoffs, Sharks defenseman Paul Martin will own the longest streak. (Sportsnet)

–As you may have seen, yesterday was National Puppy Day. Several NHL players shared pictures of themselves with their dogs. BarDown has accumulated some of the best ones. (BarDown)

–The Hockey News’ Ken Campbell thinks the NHL could improve the World Cup by taking some ideas from the World Baseball Classic. Campbell writes: “Not only was the World Cup in one country, heck it was in one city, in one arena. The World Baseball Classic, on the other hand, was played in four countries – South Korea, Japan, Mexico and USA, with three different American cities hosting games. If you want to capitalize on the unique passion that many European fans have for the game, you have to bring it to them and make them feel a part of the experience.” (The Hockey News)

Al Montoya is the first Cuban-American player to make it to the NHL, and he spoke to the Montreal Gazette’s Stu Cowan about his heritage. “I’m a first-generation Cuban-American. You don’t really hear that a lot. A lot of these (Cuban) people have been here for a while, so it’s something that’s special to me. Where my grandparents came from … they passed away a few years ago, but for me it was always a sense of pride the way that my grandparents carried themselves. The traditions that we had during the holidays … whatever it might be. (Montreal Gazette)

–The Vegas Golden Knights and Cirque du Soleil have become strategic entertainment partners. This partnership should make in-game entertainment pretty interesting. “Cirque du Soleil has had a significant presence in Las Vegas since 1992 and continues to be one of the most popular entertainment options in town. We are always looking for creative ways to enhance the overall fan experience at our home games and this partnership certainly helps advance that objective.” (NHL.com/GoldenKnights)

A big night for the rookies and a big win for the Maple Leafs

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William Nylander helped get Toronto started on Thursday, extending his point streak to 10 games — a new Maple Leafs franchise record for a rookie.

Connor Brown finished it with his 17th goal of the season, securing a 4-2 win for the Maple Leafs over the New Jersey Devils.

Toronto has won three in a row and moves three points clear of Boston for third in the Atlantic Division, with a game in hand, which further helps the Maple Leafs’ playoff chances with nine games remaining on their schedule.

Just another big night for Toronto’s impressive crop of rookies.

Auston Matthews had a pair of assists.

— Nylander had a goal and an assist. He set one and tied another franchise rookie record on Thursday.

Mitch Marner had an assist, giving him 40 helpers this season, which ties the franchise rookie record set in 1943-44.

“They’re good players,” said coach Mike Babcock, per the Toronto Star. “I didn’t know Marner would make the team. I knew Matthews and Nylander were good players. I knew Brown and (Zach) Hyman were relentless. I had no idea (Nikita) Zaitsev was as close to how good he is.

“We have lots of good players.”

In May of 2015, Babcock predicted at his introductory press conference that the Maple Leafs would, during their massive rebuild, endure “pain.” This was, he said, to be a long process — a “massive, massive challenge.”

Approaching the two-year anniversary of that event — after all the losing that franchise and its fan base has gone through, which obviously helped them with the Matthews lottery last year — the Maple Leafs are poised to make the playoffs with a nucleus of young players that present even more promise for the future.

“We just want to get in to the playoffs, and give ourselves a chance,” continued Babcock. “We’re playing well, and finding a way to win games. That’s what we have to continue to do.”

Capitals defeat Blue Jackets in clash of Metropolitan Division powers

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WASHINGTON (AP) T.J. Oshie scored the shootout winner as the Washington Capitals overcame a stellar performance from Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky to beat the Blue Jackets 2-1 Thursday night.

Despite 44 saves from Bobrovsky, the Capitals reached 104 points and extended their lead atop the Metropolitan Division and NHL standings. Oshie engendered memories of his Sochi Olympic shootout performance by again beating Bobrovsky, the goalie he scored on four times in six chances that day.

Dmitry Orlov finally cracked Bobrovsky early in the third period on Washington’s 35th shot of the game. Orlov’s goal tied the score after Seth Jones beat Braden Holtby on a wild scramble early in the third for his first goal since Feb. 7.

Holtby had 29 saves in regulation and overtime and three more in the shootout to pick up his 38th victory of the season, one shy of Bobrovsky for the league lead.

A showdown between two of the top three teams in the league jockeying for position atop the Metropolitan Division lacked a playoff feel. But the matchup of two likely Vezina Trophy finalists lived up to that billing as Bobrovsky and Holtby went back and forth with big saves.

Bobrovsky entered the night first in wins, goals-against average and save percentage with Holtby second, second and third in those categories. The 2013 Vezina winner could also be an MVP contender this season given his value to Columbus’ third playoff berth in franchise history.

“When he’s in his game it’s very hard to score on him,” said Capitals captain Alex Ovechkin, who had eight shots stopped by one of his Russian national teammates. “He likes the big moments, he likes pressure. His worth ethic is unbelievable. … In my opinion he’s one of the best goalies in the league right now.”

Methot ‘out for weeks’ after suffering a shattered finger from Crosby clash

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The Ottawa Senators lost defenseman Marc Methot for the bulk of Thursday’s game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, and it seems he’ll be out for quite a while longer, too.

Methot was injured on a Sidney Crosby slash across the hand in the first period. He didn’t return to the game and there was no penalty called on the Penguins captain.

Footage showed the gruesome aftermath of the slash — Methot’s finger on his left hand bloodied and injured as he skated back to the bench.

“His finger is shattered and he’s out for weeks,” said Senators head coach Guy Boucher, per the Ottawa Sun.

Methot immediately confronted Crosby after the slash, which occurred as the Sens blue liner went to dump the puck into the Pittsburgh zone late in the first period.

The Senators got revenge, scoring a 2-1 shootout victory to move within a point of Montreal for the Atlantic Division lead. Crosby was also denied in the shootout.