Mike Commodore, B.J. Crombeen

Tonight on NBCSN: Red Wings and Blues war atop the Central rages on


We’ve seen plenty from the Red Wings and Blues this season, but when they get together tonight in Detroit (7:30 p.m. ET on NBCSN) it’s about as big of a game between the two teams as we’ve seen in a long time.

Bragging rights just aren’t on the line tonight but the Wings have a chance to put the Blues down a bit in the race for the Central Division as well. Detroit heads into tonight’s game with a one point lead on St. Louis and Chicago and if the Red Wings could score a regulation win, putting the Blues three points back in their rear view mirror would be a lot of breathing room for how things have gone this season.

The Blues, Wings, and Blackhawks have all taken turns atop the division (and the conference too) thanks to trading off wins against the rest of the competition. Getting wins against each other is also huge thanks to the tiebreakers that could come into play at the end of the season. For coaches Ken Hitchcock and Mike Babcock getting playoff-like games this early in the season makes for great preparation for the postseason.

The Blues will have to contend with how well the Red Wings play at home. Detroit hasn’t lost at home in 16 games, their last loss coming on November 3 to Calgary. More than two months at home without losing? That’s taking care of business. St. Louis has already lost twice to Detroit at Joe Louis Arena during this 16-game streak.

On the upside for the Blues, they’re coming into tonight’s game on a four-game win streak. Also working to their advantage is that three of the four these two teams have played already were one-goal games. With how Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott have played in goal this season, that helps them a lot.

It’s not going to be easy for St. Louis, but if they want to keep things nice and tight atop the Central they’ll need to come away with two points somehow.

Surprising offense: Two guys to look out for tonight are Detroit’s Todd Bertuzzi and St. Louis defenseman Alex Pietrangelo. Bertuzzi has looked like a swift, young skater with velvety hands both in-game and in the shootout. Pietrangelo, meanwhile, is providing the blue line offense that makes him look more like a forward. For a Blues team that doesn’t score a ton of goals, his contributions are huge.

Oilers go captain-less, name four alternates instead

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Edmonton’s made a fairly significant shift in its leadership group.

The big news is the Oilers won’t have a captain this season, as Andrew Ference will relinquish the “C” he’s worn for the last two years.

Ference will, however, remain part of the group and wear an “A” as part of a four-man alternate captain collective, one that also includes Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.

The news of Ference being removed as captain doesn’t come as a huge surprise. The veteran d-man is a well-respected leader, but isn’t expected to be in the lineup every night this season.

The decision to go without a captain, though, is something of a surprise, especially given what new head coach Todd McLellan endured during his final season in San Jose.

The Sharks’ captaincy issue — stripping Joe Thornton, then going with four rotating alternates — was an ongoing problem, something that players, coaches and GM Doug Wilson had to repeatedly address until it blew up in spectacular fashion.

That said, the circumstances in Edmonton are quite different.

It’s believed the club’s intentionally keeping the captaincy vacant, on the assumption that Connor McDavid will evolve into a superstar and the club’s unquestioned leader.

Finally, McLellan noted that with Eberle currently sidelined, a fifth Oiler would be added to the leadership group — veteran forward Matt Hendricks, who will serve as a temporary alternate.

Brandon Sutter didn’t have the greatest preseason

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When Brandon Sutter was acquired by the Vancouver Canucks, GM Jim Benning called the 26-year-old a “foundation piece for our group going forward.”

Sutter was quickly signed to a five-year extension worth almost $22 million, more evidence of how highly management thought of the player.

Fast forward to yesterday, when Benning was asked the following question:

“What does it say that you made the trade for Sutter, you called him a ‘foundation’ player, and it took him until the final night of the preseason to find a spot (with the Sedins) on the wing, which isn’t his natural position?”

Here was Benning’s response:

“Well, [head coach Willie Desjardins] wants to try that out, he thinks that’s going to be a good fit. At various times, the Sedins played with wingers with speed, with [Ryan Kesler], who could get in on the forecheck and had a good shot. Sutter brings some of those qualities, too.”

While all that may be true, Sutter was not signed to play the wing; he was brought in to play center, specifically on the second line. He finished the preseason with zero points in five games. And as mentioned, he’ll start the season on the wing, not his natural position.

Meanwhile, youngsters Bo Horvat, 20, and Jared McCann, 19, had outstanding camps and are expected to start the regular season (tonight in Calgary) centering the second and third lines, respectively.

Though Sutter did finish the preseason with 12 shots on goal, up there with the most on the Canucks, it’s fair to say he did not look like a “foundation” player.

“I haven’t seen him play his best,” Desjardins said last week. “I see a guy who’s big and a good skater and who understands the game real well, but just hasn’t got that involved.”

Now, we are only talking about the preseason here. New players often take time to get comfortable. Perhaps playing with the Sedins can provide Sutter with some confidence.

“I know he’ll be there and I totally believe that,” said Desjardins.

But it hasn’t been the best start, and if it wasn’t for the encouraging play of the youngsters, it would be a far bigger story in Vancouver.

Related: Canucks roll the dice on rookies, waive Vey and Corrado