Tonight is the only time this season Carolina and Detroit will meet, unless both make the Stanley Cup Finals again. They played each other twice during the 2003-2004 season, with the Wings winning the first 4-1 on January 2nd, 2004 and both teams skating to a 4-4 tie in the second on January 31st.
The Wings are coming off a 6-3 loss to Dallas Sunday. They led 3-0 early in the second period but then allowed 6 unanswered goals to take their second loss in four games. They opened January with a loss to Minnesota but followed that up with wins over St. Louis and Nashville later in the week. Tonight's game is the first of a three-game Eastern Conference mini-series that will take them back home to host the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers Thursday and Saturday.
The 'Canes have won their last four and are coming off a 3-0 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday. They also beat the Isles the night before, 4-1, after wins over Montreal and Atlanta. They are riding the top of the Southeast Division with 58 points, 12 ahead of Atlanta and just one behind the Wings, who are second in the league behind only Philadelphia (60) and Ottawa (59). It's funny, because the last time these two teams squared off, Carolina was at the bottom of the league. Now, they're near the top and it's in large part due to their goalie, Martin Gerber, and young star Eric Staal. Gerber is an impressive 20-7-2 this year with three shutouts and a 2.70 GAA. Staal leads the team with 26 goals and 52 points. This game kicks off a three-game home stretch for the 'Canes in which they will play host to three Central Division teams: Detroit, Nashville and St. Louis.
Manny Legace will get the start tonight and Martin Gerber should be in net for Carolina.
The Free Press
reports that Johan Franzen may return to the ice tonight, based on what the man himself said: " 'I felt good today,' Franzen said, adding he would be ready to play tonight. 'My whole left side was sore, but it felt a lot better today.' " However, both the Freep and News
point out that Mike Babcock has other ideas: "I don't think so. He could shoot the puck if he wanted to, but he didn't want to. To play his game, a physical game, I don't think he can do that at this point." I agree with Babcock. If he can't play it rough, Franzen ought to sit out. That's his use to the team, playing a physical game. If he sits out, it will be for the third straight game.
The Freep also gives an encouraging report
on the status of Niklas Kronwall. Looks like we could see him back before the Olympic Break and as early as the end of January. That's great, if he's really, truly ready. I'd probably rather have him stay out until after the break, just to be sure.
Brendan Shanahan, who has not scored in six games, will have a change in linemates tonight. He has been playing with Pavel Datsyuk, who has a goal and four assists in the last eight, but will play with Henrik Zetterberg instead, the News reports. It's an attempt by Babcock to get Shanahan jump-started again. Shanny was bothered by back spasms recently, at least, and has not been the same player he was since the start of the season.
The Wings need to win tonight. It's that simple. However hot the Hurricanes are, the guys need to get it together and rebound after Sunday's embarrassing loss. Another loss tonight could send them into a tailspin that won't be easily righted because their opponents don't get any easier this week.