Tonight, the Wings return to NHL action with their third (of four) game against the San Jose Sharks. They are 2-0 against the Sharks this year, with wins October 17th (3-2 OT
) and November 26th (7-6). The October game was when Kris Draper took a puck to the face, causing him to wear a visor, by the way.
Before the Olympic Break, the Wings were on a 6-0 tear, with two wins over Nashville (essentially locking up the Central title) and Colorado (sweeping the season series) as well as less challenging wins over St. Louis and Minnesota. That was with their full roster and one that was able to pick up momentum that will since have been largely lost, due to the two-week interruption that was the 2006 Winter Olympics.
The Wings will be short five of their best players
for tonight's game, the Swedes Tomas Holmstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, Nick Lidstrom, Niklas Kronwall and Mikael Samuelsson, who won't have made it back to the States in time after participating in celebrations in Sweden for having won the gold medal
In response to a report by TSN
yesterday that stated players returning late from the Olympics could face fines, GM Ken Holland has said he will not issue any fines, according to the Freep
. Head coach Mike Babcock is understanding of the Swedes' decision to go to Stockholm rather than Detroit or San Jose and confident that the Wings will be able to find a way to win without them tonight. It's not as though the team doesn't have experience being undermanned. In 2003-2004, they were plagued with injures so badly that at one point they were down 10 regulars. Still, they ended with the league's best record, as Ansar Khan points out today
It looked like the Wings will also be without Pavel Datsyuk, who has been having travel issues but the Freep reports he is expected to be back in time for the game. He suffered a broken finger before headed to Torino but it hasn't seemed to have affected his play. He finished the tournament with one goal and seven assists through eight games.
Tomas Kopecky has been brought up from the minors to help fill the holes and the usual substitutes (Brett Lebda, Mark Mowers, Jamie Rivers) will be inserted into the lineup as well. 19 players will dress for the team tonight.
Since he is officially "the guy" now, Manny Legace will be in net for the Wings.
The Sharks are third in the Pacific Division with 62 points and don't have much hope at all of catching Dallas, the division leader (79). They have won their last three games, however, including a 6-3 win over the Stars on the 10th. They're trying to pass Edmonton for the Conference's eighth playoff spot so this is a potential playoff matchup tonight. Goalie Evgeni Nabokov is expected back from the Olympics today but newly re-signed goalie Vesa Toskala will get the start
. Joe Thornton is expected back from Torino in time for the game tonight as well and will play if he is.
It should be an interesting game. Most of the players on both teams will be very well rested and that is both a good and a bad thing. It'll probably be a pretty messy game as both teams get back in the saddle but the Sharks will have the advantage of not missing a good chunk of their lineup. The Wings are more than competent without their Swedes but San Jose is a good team and would love to take a bite out of the league leaders.