After an ugly slump, the Kings are starting to get into a groove, and in rare afternoon game on Saturday, the Kings will look to make it four straight wins and five wins in their last six games when the Detroit Red Wings pay them a visit.
Usually when the Red Wings play any team, the fans of that team aren’t exactly thrilled about it. But are these the same Red Wings that have made five trips to the Stanley Cup Finals in the last 14 seasons and won the Cup four times? Detroit hasn’t missed the playoffs since the 1989-1990 season, meaning they have made the playoffs in an incredible 20 seasons in a row, the longest active playoff streak of the four major North American professional sports, and are one of the most legendary dynasties in sports history. However, all dynasties come to an end at some point because teams get older, and the Red Wings, the oldest team in the NHL, have followed up two straight trips to the Stanley Cup Finals with two straight second round exits. Now the Wings are still a great team and I certainly don’t expect their playoff streak to come to an end this year and I think they still have a decent shot to make another run at the Cup, and I’m not saying that the dynasty is over yet, but these Red Wings don’t seem like the same old Red Wings.
The Wings seem to have lost some of their swagger, and much like the Kings, have had a very up-and-down first quarter of the season. After opening their season with five straight wins, Detroit went on a miserable 0-5-1 stretch, then recovered to win four in a row, but have since lost two straight games, including a 5-2 beating that they took in San Jose on Thursday night. The problem in Detroit, and it’s surprising, because they’re Detroit, is that they’re struggling to score. The Red Wings are averaging 2.65 goals per game, which ranks them a mediocre 18th in offense in the NHL, only slightly better than the Kings who are averaging 2.47 goals per game and are ranked 22nd in the NHL in offense. Combine that with the defensive success that both teams are having, Detroit is ranked seventh in the NHL in defense, allowing 2.37 goals against per game, while the Kings are ranked fourth in defense, allowing 2.21 goals against per game, and we may be in for a low-scoring game, despite all of the offensive talent that both teams possess.
If the Kings are going to score some goals, then their best bet is to do it on the power play. Not only because the Kings seem to score all of their goals on the power play, I mean, the Kings offense is ranked 22nd in the NHL but their power play is ranked fifth in the NHL at a 20.2% success rate, so obviously when you have such a low-ranked offense despite a strong power play then you just aren’t scoring a thing at 5-on-5, but their power play gets to match up against a Detroit penalty kill that is killing off only 77.8% of their penalties, which gives them the 25th-ranked penalty kill in the NHL. Meanwhile, the Kings penalty kill has been struggling as of late, as it has uncharacteristically plummeted to 17th in the NHL at an 82.7% success rate, and you’d think they’d be in for a tough test against the Red Wings’ power play, but Detroit is only converting on 16.4% of their power plays this year, which ties them for 17th in the NHL.
Given all of the talent that the Red Wings possess up front, their mediocre offense has been surprising this season, but, again, they do have a lot of talent, so they’re always a threat to break out and have a big day at any time. With the likes of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jiri Hudler and Dan Cleary leading the offense, there’s certainly the potential for the Wings to put up a lot of goals, as they have done in the past. Drew Miller, Tomas Holmstrom, Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader, Cory Emmerton, Patrick Eaves, and Fabian Brunnstrom make up the remainder of the Red Wings forwards, while one of them will be a healthy scratch, but Detroit head coach Mike Babcock has not yet decided who. Jan Mursak, Anze Kopitar’s countryman who became the second and only Slovenian in NHL history other than Kopitar, is on the injured reserve, and Todd Bertuzzi was activated off the injured reserve and is hopeful to play, but it’s not yet known if he’ll be able to. If so, he’ll likely be inserted into a top-six role, and another forward will have to be a healthy scratch
On defense, the Red Wings may have lost Brian Rafalski to retirement in the summer, but they still have Nicklas Lidstrom as well as Niklas Kronwall to headline the Detroit blue line. Former King Brad Stuart as well as Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Commodore, Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl make up the remainder of the Red Wings’ defense corps, but one will be a healthy scratch. It’s also not yet decided who will sit for Detroit on defense. Ian White is on the injured reserve.
Jimmy Howard and Ty Conklin are the netminders in the Motor City, and it’s expected to be their regular starter, Howard, in goal on Saturday against the Kings, who was been very strong this season with an 8-5-1 record and three shutouts to go along with a .928 Sv% a 1.90 GAA.
For the Kings, there will be no changes. It remains Anze Kopitar between Simon Gagne and Justin Williams, the red-hot Mike Richards between Andrei Loktionov and Dustin Brown, Jarret Stoll between Kyle Clifford and Brad Richardson, and Colin Fraser between Ethan Moreau and Trevor Lewis.
On defense, it remains Jack Johnson with Drew Doughty, Willie Mitchell with Slava Voynov, and Alec Martinez with Matt Greene.
Jonathan Quick is back in goal for his fifth start in a row and 17th in 20 games this season, while Trent Hunter, Kevin Westgarth, and Davis Drewiske remain the healthy scratches.
The Kings have had some success against Detroit recently. They won their last meeting and have won five of their last six meetings with the Red Wings, but the last time these two teams met at Staples Center was back on February 28th and Detroit walloped the Kings, 7-4, in a game where the score made the game look better than it actually was as it was 7-1 Detroit before the Kings ended a run of seven unanswered Detroit goals with three late third period goals. Can the Kings avenge their humiliating defeat from the last time the Red Wings came to town, or will the struggling Wings finally break through?