Thanks to Christy from Behind the Jersey for this preview of what we Sens fans should expect from the seldom-seen but much-discussed Detroit Red Wings team that is first in the league right now. Ben and I also offered a synopsis of the Sens' season so far that you can find on BTJ here.
Saturday’s game will mark the only time the two top current teams in the league, the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators, play one another this regular season. So allow me the pleasure to introduce you to this season’s Detroit Red Wings…
Let’s begin with the golden trio composed of Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and Tomas Holmstrom. Zetterberg and Datsyuk were just named starters to the Western Conference’s All-Star team. Zetterberg has scored 26 goals thus far this season, fifth best in the league. Datsyuk notched 36 assists so far, third best in the NHL. Holmstrom just returned from a knee injury earlier this week, which has dampened his offensive efforts.
While Holmstrom and Zetterberg were out with injuries at the same time, Detroit’s secondary scoring stepped up to fill the offensive void. With Homer and Hank out of the lineup, Valtteri Filppula notched points in six straight games. As of January 2nd, he had scored goals in seven of his last eleven games. He was also +11 in his last 14 games through the 2nd. Other players like Dan Cleary, Mikael Samuelsson, and Jiri Hudler benefited from the increased ice time due to injuries to key players.
Ten players have at least 20 offensive points this season, three of which are defensemen.
You won’t find much better on the blue line than veteran defenseman and team captain Nicklas Lidstrom. He was recently named to the All-Star team as well, marking his eighth consecutive trip, and received the highest number of votes in the Western Conference and second overall (behind only Sidney Crosby). His numbers speak for themselves. In 44 games, he has notched 40 points (4G, 36A) and leads the league with an impressive +34 while averaging over 27 minutes of ice time per game.
His defensive pair on the power play is Brian Rafalski, who has 36 points this season (7G, 29A). While his signing this summer initially seemed to be more reactionary to the loss of Mathieu Schneider to the Anaheim Ducks, Rafalski has really fit in and benefited from Detroit’s style of play. I’ve been quite impressed and actually prefer the newcomer to Schneider.
Niklas Kronwall is the third defenseman to have over 20 points this season. While he only snuck by with 21 points (2G, 19A), his play has drastically improved due in part to the increased ice time and the fact that he’s gone most of the season without an injury (knock on wood).
Of course, we have the NHL’s second oldest player ever in Chris Chelios (please get the old jokes out of your system before the start of the game). The one player who still scares me almost every time he touches the puck is Andreas Lilja. Many Red Wing fans will blame his poor pass for our loss in the WCF last year, but he really has improved. Sometimes he’ll impress you with his physical play, but other times Detroit fans just yell at the TV over a stupid play or pass he’ll try.
This game should be a great match up as both teams feature two strong goaltenders. Due to the solid play of both goaltenders, head coach Mike Babcock has simply been alternating goaltenders each game. Since Chris Osgood will start in Thursday’s game, I would expect Senators fans to see Dominik Hasek in net (much to the delight of Sens fans, I’m sure).
Detroit has the Crazy Czech, what I like to call Hasek. When Hasek plays like the insane goaltender that he is, he will win the game for you. The other goaltender is Osgood, who just re-signed with the Wings for three more seasons. After switching his style in net, Osgood has seen a marked improvement in his statistics as he leads the league in save percentage (.932) and goals against average (1.68).
I believe this should be a close and entertaining game between the two teams. While I believe Detroit is the better team, anything could happen and the game could go either way on Saturday night.
Just a few fun for the whole family stats…
Detroit: 33-8-3, which puts them 11 points above Ottawa in the standings as of Wednesday evening when this was written.
- #1 Team in Goals For as well as Goals Against (Detroit also takes the most shots on net, while allowing the least number of shots on their own net)
- #1 Team in the Face-off Circle
- #2 Power Play
- #4 Penalty Kill
And opposing teams can no longer use the excuse that our points are inflated due to the poor Central Division as the Central Division is the only one where every team is at least .500 or above. Detroit has a 7-7-2 record against its fellow Central Division teams, but has dominated every other division with a 26-1-1 record.