Thursday, January 29, 2004

GameDay: vs. New Jersey (26-12-10-1, 63) 7:30 EST

Tonight is the first and only game this season between the two most successful teams of the past decade. Last year, the Wings ended up being eliminated in the first round of the playoffs when the Ducks swept them and the Devils finished up the Stanley Cup Champions when they beat the Ducks in seven. The Wings finished up a five-game road trip on Monday night in Dallas with a 2-2 tie. They were 1-2-2 on the trip and are a mere 2-3-3-1 since blowing out the Predators 6-0 nine games ago. They have hit their usual mid-season slump which comes as no surprise considering they have played more games than any other team to this point. The Wings have had some trouble scoring goals and holding on to leads in the past few games and many players who are usually counted on to score have been cold lately. Brendan Shanahan has gone 10 games without a goal and Brett Hull has just one goal in 23 games. Steve Yzerman has one in 11, Henrik Zetterberg one in 12 and Ray Whitney has one in nine. Tomas Holmstrom scored his first in nine during Monday's game against the Stars. It doesn't help that Curtis Joseph has hit sort of a slump as well and that the defense has been weak. Neither does their poor power play, which has gone 2-for-24 in the past six games. They have only scored 21 goals in their past nine games after shooting to the top of the NHL goals-scored list in December. The Devils will try to win four in a row for the first time since they won five from November 13th to the 25th. They are on their final Western Conference road trip of the season and won the first game 4-3 over the Columbus Blue Jackets on Tuesday. They have been getting stellar goal tending from Martin Brodeur, who leads the league in wins (23) and shutouts (10). The team as a whole leads the league in goals-against average with just 1.78 goals allowed per game. They will be without Scott Stevens, who is out with post-concussion syndrome (ironic, isn't it?), though Jamie Langenbrunner may play. Curtis Joseph will likely get the start tonight after riding the pine on Monday night. Dominik Hasek is apparently still a week to ten days away from skating, at which time the Wings will once again have to juggle three goalies. Darren McCarty says he is close to making a comeback. "I can't put a date on it, but sooner rather than later." He skated through another full practice with the team on Wednesday and has not had a major setback in a couple weeks. He hopes to be back as soon as next week. I see this as a pretty important game for the Wings. They need to get back on their feet and the first game back from a road trip should be a good time to do that. They cannot expect to get away without scoring tonight because that is exactly what the Devils will be gunning for. They will have to work hard to break the trap and hopefully their size won't be a huge problem. They are going to have to play strong defense themselves because the last thing they want to do is give New Jersey a lead so they can turn around and sit on it. Hopefully, they'll play some smart hockey and maybe we'll see one or two of those big stars get a goal tonight. We'll also get to see Igor Larionov make his last appearance in Detroit. The Professor said "I talked to Pavel (Datsyuk) and told him, 'Don't make any moves on me, or I'll slash you.'" I wouldn't be too surprised if you did, Igor. He has just 10 points in 37 games with the Devils and no goals. He has not had the best time adjusting to the Devils' system and does not get along with head coach Pat Burns very well. There has been speculation about a possible return to Detroit but that isn't very likely, in my mind, unless it is as a coach or in some other non-player position. Anyway, the Wings need this game to stay with the League-leading Colorado Avalanche, who have 68 points to the Wings' 65. The Avs have taken advantage of this slump and have pulled ahead while the Blues have fortunately hit a slump of their own and have fallen behind the Wings with 58 points. Freep News ESPN


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