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Matchup: San Jose Sharks vs. Detroit Red Wings
Venue: Joe Louis Arena; Detroit, MI
Time: 7:30 PM EST
Television: Detroit- FS-D; San Jose- CSN-California
In a shortened season, every win is critical if you want to make the playoffs. The Detroit Red Wings (19-15-5, 43 points, 8th place Western Conference) are finding that out the hard way, losing 5 of their past 7 (2-5-0) to drop to eighth place in the west and only one point ahead of ninth place Phoenix Coyotes with nine games to go. The Red Wings will look to gain some breathing room tonight when the suddenly surging San Jose Sharks (20-12-7, 47 points, 5th place Western Conference) come into Joe Louis Arena, in a match which is sure to have playoff atmosphere.
Just a couple of weeks ago, the Red Wings were sitting comfortably in the fifth spot in the Western Conference well out of reach of the teams fighting to make the playoffs. Mediocre play though has seen that comfort all but disappear and put the Red Wings streak of 21 consecutive seasons in the playoffs in danger. They currently lead by one point over ninth place Phoenix with one game in hand, two points over tenth place (tied)Dallas with no games in hand, and tenth place (tied) Columbus with one game in hand. The Red Wings certainly control their own fate from here, and each of the remaining nine games will all feel like playoff games. Fighting for the last playoff spot is something the Red Wings, or their fans, are not accustomed to. Each year the Red Wings are almost guaranteed to be top five in the West, but the loss of key players, along with a young defense, has placed them in the danger zone known as the playoff cutoff line.
The Red Wings offense has been struggling over the past eight games. They were shutout in their last game 1-0 by the St. Louis Blues and have not scored more than three goals in a game since scoring five in a 5-1 victory over the Anaheim Ducks on March 22nd. The Red Wings were only able to muster 25 shots on net in the game on Brian Elliot who was able to turn all of them away. The Red Wings will need to get some goals because they cannot expect Jimmy Howard to give up only one to two goals every game.
The Sharks come into this game scorching hot. Though they have lost their past two games, they won the seven before that and are 7-2-1 overall in their past ten games. The recent success has propelled the Sharks from barely clinging onto a playoff spot to sitting comfortably in the fifth spot in the west with nine games left to play. They have been riding the hot play of goaltender Antti Niemi who has given up more than two goals in a game only three times in their past ten, while earning two shutouts in that stretch. The offense seems to have found a groove compared to earlier in the season when the Sharks were struggling to put two goals on the board in a game. The Red Wings remain only four points behind the Sharks in the standings so a win tonight would be a huge confidence booster as well as a major step to getting to the number five spot and avoiding Chicago in the first round.
The Red Wings will turn to Jimmy Howard in net once again. Howard will be making his sixth start in a row and is coming off of a very strong performance last Sunday afternoon when he stopped 27 of 28 shots en route to the 1-0 loss. Brendan Smith will be replacing Ian White in the lineup and Damien Brunner will be returning to the lineup after missing the past three games. With Brunner coming back, Jordin Tootoo will be a healthy scratch tonight along with Carlo Colaiacovo and Brian Lashoff.
The Sharks are expected to counter with Antti Niemi in net tonight since he was pulled in Columbus after giving up 4 goals on 26 shots. If Niemi is to start tonight, it would be his 17th consecutive start. In that time, he has a record of 9-5-2 to help his team sit comfortably in the playoff race.
Players To Watch:
- Jimmy Howard has been very steady in net for the Red Wings this season, posting a 16-12-4 record with a .917 save percentage and 2.41 GAA. The Red Wings are set to reward him and are on the verge of a 6 year contract extension for the goaltender. Expect more solid goaltending out of Howard down the stretch and into the playoffs.
- Damien Brunner returns to the lineup tonight after missing the past three games with injury. It would be good for Brunner to come back from the injury and get a quick goal or assist. He has failed to record a point in his two games against the Sharks so far this season, but he is well rested and should be attacking the net every chance he gets.
- Antti Niemi has just dominated the Red Wings in his career, going 9-2-2 with a .940 save percentage and 1.81 GAA. If the Red Wings want to leave the game tonight with a victory, it will be crucial to get an early goal to get in Niemi’s head before he gets comfortable. If they fail to score in the first while firing multiple shots on net, it could end up being a long night.
- Joe Thornton is averaging nearly a point a game this season, posting 35 points (7 goals, 28 assists) in 39 games. In the two games against Detroit this season, Thornton has tallied only 2 assists but always is a threat to score multiple goals in a game.
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