Matchup: Detroit Red Wings vs. Los Angeles Kings
Venue: Staples Center; Los Angeles, California
Time: 10:00 pm EST
Coming off two of their most dominant victories of the season, the Detroit Red Wings (9-7-3, 21 points, 8th place Western Conference) will look to keep their new found momentum going as they begin a two game west coast trip when they head to Los Angeles to take on the defending Stanley Cup champions Los Angeles Kings (9-6-2, 20 points, 9th place Western Conference).
The Red Wings were able to find a way to beat two of the premier goaltenders in the NHL in Pekka Rinne and Roberto Luongo to the sound of twelve goals in two games after scoring twelve in the previous five game losing streak. The Red Wings will face their third straight tough test in goal when they face reigning Conn Smyth trophy winner Jonathan Quick and the surging Los Angeles Kings for the second time this season. The Red Wings used the powerplay to top both Nashville and Vancouver by scoring on 4 of their 7 total powerplay chances, but are still only converting on 16.47% of their opportunities this season. If the Red Wings are going to remain in the playoff hunt, the powerplay will need to get going on the road as the Red Wings are still the only NHL team yet to score a powerplay goal on the road. The Red Wings have a chance to end that streak tonight as the Los Angeles Kings are currently 18th in the league in penalty killing.
The Red Wings power burst this past weekend was aided by the strong play of Niklas Kronwall (2 goals, 4 assists in 2 games) who has stepped up well thus far taking over the top defensive spot after the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom. Kronwall's 16 points is tops among all NHL defensemen and his 23:50 total on ice per game leads all Red Wings skaters. He is currently one of the Red Wings hottest players, and will need to step up his game on the road, where he has registered only 3 points (0 goals, 3 assists) in 7 road games so far this season.
Coming off of their first Stanley Cup win in franchise history, the Los Angeles Kings have not had the same success to begin this shortened season as they did on their miraculous playoff run. The Red Wings did not help that much earlier this month in a 3-2 win in which Jonathan Ericsson scored with 5 seconds left to lift the Red Wings after Alec Martinez tied the game at 2 with 53 seconds remaining in the game. Jimmy Howard played arguably his strongest game of the season making 45 of 47 saves while making some difficult saves along the way. The Los Angeles Kings have picked up their play recently by winning four in a row and 7 out of the past 10 overall while outscoring their opponents 15-5 on the current 4 game winning streak. Their most recent victory on Monday night came against the Anaheim Ducks in convincing fashion by a final score of 5-2. The Kings will be without Simon Gagne (0 goals, 5 assists) after he was traded to Philadelphia Tuesday afternoon for a conditional draft pick.
Even with the strong play the past two weeks, the Kings still currently trail the Red Wings in the standings by one point with 20 points with two games in hand, so this is a crucial game for the Red Wings to help solidify them a little more in the playoff race. It is also crucial for the Red Wings to show that they are able to continue to play high caliber hockey against strong Western Conference teams that they could possibly face in the playoffs. The end of February is a significant period in this 48 game season as it is nearly the halfway point, so teams need to gather as many points as possible as the stretch run begins to try and separate themselves from the teams on the outside looking in.
After the two strong outings this weekend, Jimmy Howard will make his fifth straight start while the Red Wings will be getting big bodied Johan Franzen back in the lineup after missing the past seven games with a hip flexor injury. Brendan Smith (shoulder) and Kyle Quincey (ankle) will also both be in the lineup which should give some relief to a banged up defensive corps. Ian White and Kent Huskins will be healthy scratches with the return of Smith and Quincey. The Red Wings will be without Valtteri Filppula as he is day to day with a left shoulder sprain.
Players To Watch:
- Damien Brunner has 6 points (4 goals, 2 assists) in his past five games and recorded a goal in the last meeting with the Los Angeles Kings. While getting 17:06 ice time/game this season, good things always seem to happen while Brunner is on the ice as he leads the Red Wings in goals with 10 in his rookie campaign.
- Henrik Zetterberg continues to be the premier play maker on the Red Wings with a team leading 19 assists on the season and 7 points (1 goal, 6 assists) in the past five games. He continues to log a good amount of ice time per game and has found good success playing with Damien Brunner just as he did in Switzerland during the lockout.
- Tomas Tatar has been a pleasant surprise for the Red Wings as of late, and has recorded 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in limited ice time since the Red Wings last played the Los Angeles Kings on February 10th. He has brought energy to the lineup since his call up from Grand Rapids. If his play continues to be strong, expect to see him in the Red Wings lineup permanently.
- Jonathan Quick has increased his play as of late and is imperative for the Kings if they want to make the playoffs and possibly go on a run. He has not given up more than 3 goals in his past 10 games while posting a 5-5 record. His save percentage is still not where it was the past two seasons, but if he continues his strong play, there is little doubt that it will rise.
- Anze Kopitar is currently on a three game point streak (1 goal, 5 assists) and has picked up 9 points in 10 games in February. He scored in the last meeting between the two teams and always has strong games against the Red Wings. It appears he is heating up at the right time as the Kings make a playoff push.
- Jeff Carter has been the leading scorer for the Kings this season (10 goals in 17 contests) and has scored a goal in 4 straight games. The Kings are 6-0 in February in games which Carter scores, winning by 2 goals or more in 5 out of those 6.
- Per Ansar Khan of Mlive, Darren Helm will be re-evaluated this week after he saw a specialist on Monday in New York. Currently, his injury has been described as a ligament strain and he has been given medication. Helm has not skated since January 26th, and has appeared in only one game this season.