Jackets, Wings look to stop slides
BLUE JACKETS (14-17-7) at RED WINGS (18-14-5)
-- Columbus 1-7-2, Detroit 5-4-1
-- Only one meeting so far between the two teams, a 9-1 manhandling by the Red Wings on Nov. 11, continuing a streak of dominance dating back to the Wings' sweep of the Jackets in the playoffs last year. It's a far cry from those days, as not only are several of the Wings' goal scorers in that game out of commission with injuries, but the team as a whole hasn't scored much lately.
-- It's the Blue Jackets who are in worse shape, having lost eight in a row, three in regulation, but the Wings have problems of their own, losing three straight and going 141 minutes without a goal. With both teams on losing streaks, this game could turn out to be a pivotal one.
-- Christmas break is often a time to assess the state of a team and where it stands as far as a playoff push is concerned. Right now with 10 straight road losses and 16 in their past 18 games, coach Ken Hitchcock's hopes of getting the team going in December have been tested.
"We don't have enough guys engaged right now," he said to the Columbus Dispatch. "We don't have enough guys going to the net, paying the price to score goals.
"Until we get everybody bought in, we're going to struggle."
On the goaltending end, Hitchcock has decided to alternate Steve Mason
and Mathieu Garon
in nets until one wins.
"We're looking for better play at all spots on the ice," he said. "It's not just the goaltending. But it's such a critical position, and you reach a point where you have to give both guys a chance and see if one guy can get it rolling in a different direction.
"Mase is the future here. Nobody questions that. But we're in a spot now where we have to be looking at things in more of a short-term perspective. We have to get going."
-- Up until this most recent scoreless streak, the consensus in the hockey world was that the Wings were doing a decent job keeping their heads above water while they waited for their injured players to return.
And as far as effort is concerned, it's there. During Wednesday's 3-0 loss to the Blackhawks, they stayed in it all the way through, outhitting Chicago early on and drawing five power plays. But as is the case when the likes of Henrik Zetterberg, Johan Franzen, Valtteri Filppula, Jason Williams, Dan Cleary, Niklas Kronwall and Andreas Lilja are out at the same time, the offense continues to struggle.
"We just gotta find a way to score some goals, that's the bottom line," defenseman Brad Stuart said on the team's official Web site. "Strange power plays, we're getting some opportunities but we need to find a way to put it in the net. That's what you need to do, and we just haven't been able to do that."
Their 0-for-5 turn against the Blackhawks with a man advantage compounds an 0-for-19 slump and 4-for-58 over the longer haul.
-- Offensive droughts put additional pressure on goalies and Wings netminder Jimmy Howard actually did a pretty good job in the Chicago shutout, making 28 saves on the night and stopping several rebound opportunities.
-- The best Christmas present the Wings could get is one or more of their top players back and Filppula (broken wrist) is scheduled to return against the Blue Jackets. Meanwhile, forward Dan Cleary's separated shoulder will keep him out of the lineup a few more weeks. The flu bug has spread through the Columbus locker room, knocking out defenseman Anton Stralman for three games, but he is expected to be ready Saturday night.
-- The Red Wings have been shut out five times this year -- all in their last 15 games, the most a Detroit team has been blanked before Dec. 31 since 1958-59.
-- Eight points out of a playoff spot is still not insurmountable for the Blue Jackets, but time is starting to work against them. The Red Wings, on the other hand, should take a page out of the Jackets' playbook and try not to let what is now a minor setback turn into something much worse.