Detroit - December 23, 2014 -
Who: Detroit Red Wings
Where: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI
Know thine enemy: Detroit is in a situation it hoped it wouldn’t find itself: skidding and having to deal with injuries. The Wings are just 3-3-4 over their last 10 games and they’re dealing with a myriad of injuries. Pavel Datsyuk and Jimmy Howard are dealing with groin issues. Johan Franzen has missed timed with a lower-body injury. Stephen Weiss has a recurring shoulder problem. Not good for a team that is starting to come back to Earth after a scorching start.
Despite all that, the Wings are still third in the very good Atlantic Division and trail Montreal and Tampa Bay by just a point. Henrik Zetterberg continues to be the torch-bearer for the Wings offensively, leading the way in assists (22) and points (28). Tomas Tartar (22 points) and Gus Nyquist (14 goals, 19 points) have had nice starts to their seasons and are the youth movement the Wings have desperately needed.
Howard has been the story on the back end for the Wings, going 13-5-7 with a 2.06 GAA and .921 save percentage before the groin injury. Goaltending (and defense) as a whole has been very good, coming in at fifth in the NHL in goals against per game at 2.26 and third in shots against at 27.4.
About the Sabres: After a scorching hot month from mid-November to mid-December, the Sabres have returned to reality. They’ve been blown out in two of their last three and dropped the third in overtime to the rival Bruins.
Jhonas Enroth, looking superhuman during a stretch that saw the Sabres win 10 of 13, has looked very human of late. Michal Neuvirth is also back and looks rusty as can be. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: with this Sabres team, if the goaltending isn’t there, things can and usually will get ugly.
Like the Wings, the Sabres might be a little bit short up front. Matt Moulson and Patrick Kaleta are fighting off the flu and it’s unknown whether or not Brian Gionta will suit up after taking a huge hit on Sunday in Boston. Marcus Foligno left that game as well and it is unknown if he’ll suit up, either. For a team that struggles as mightily as the Sabres do offensively, those are huge potential losses should they be left out of the lineup.
The last time these two met: The Sabres won their first game against the Red Wings since October 13, 2009 when Zemgus Girgensons scored in the third round of a shootout to give the Sabres the 3-2 win back on November 2nd. Neuvirth was strong in that one, turning aside 36 of 38 shots en route to the victory.
The part where I predict things: It’s really hard to get a gauge on this one. Both teams are sliding and dealing with the injury bug at an inopportune time. The Wings are trying to keep pace at the top of the Atlantic Division with much younger and more talented teams in Montreal and Tampa Bay and can’t afford to be in the skids for long.
The Sabres seem like they’re being smacked hard by reality of late and the Wings keep finding ways to win. Even if Howard doesn’t suit up, look for the Wings defense and goaltending to shut down what is still a very poor Sabres offense for the win.
Score: 2-1 Red Wings
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