NHL Forecaster: When Will the Detroit Red Wings' Home Winning Streak End?

James MartinContributor IFebruary 16, 2012

NHL Forecaster: When Will the Detroit Red Wings' Home Winning Streak End?

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    The Detroit Red Wings entered the season with lingering doubts after making key roster moves following disappointing early playoff exits. The Red Wings' toughness was challenged in consecutive series losses to the San Jose Sharks.

    Coach Mike Babcock set the tone from the start of training camp, challenging each player to improve. He made his expectations clear. Despite the parity in today's NHL, the Red Wings expect to challenge for Lord Stanley's Cup every year.

    The salary-cap era allows all 30 teams to field a competitive squad. In one of the tightest division races in years, the Central Division is home to three teams (the Red Wings, St. Louis Blues and Nashville Predators) with more than 70 points.

    Despite a challenging schedule, the Red Wings have managed to win 21 consecutive games at home. That's quite a treat for the citizens of Hockeytown. It says a lot about the composition of the team and their dedication to the fans.

    With 14 home games remaining, the Red Wings will look to keep the momentum rolling. If they enter the playoffs with this kind of home-ice dominance, they run a great chance of reaching the finals.

    Here's a game-by-game breakdown of the Red Wings' remaining home schedule, with each game rated on a descending five-point scale, with five being the most difficult and one the least.

Friday, 2/17 : Nashville Predators

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    The Nashville Predators sit third in the Central with a surprising 72 points. Despite average scoring and goals-against numbers, the Predators have positioned themselves near the top of the Western Conference.

    Both teams will have three days of rest going into Friday night's showdown. The Predators knocked off the Chicago Blackhawks Tuesday night and have earned points in five of their last seven games.

    The trio of Pekka Rinne, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber anchor an opportunistic Nashville squad that is brimming with confidence. The Red Wings should expect a low-scoring, physical game. The Red Wings hold a 2-1 lead in the season series.

    Difficulty: 5

Sunday, 2/19: San Jose Sharks

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    The San Jose Sharks have had the Red Wings' number the past couple seasons. They sit third in the Western Conference with a respectable 68 points. Though they've flown under the radar this season, the Sharks pose a threat every night.

    Led by offensive dynamos Joe Thornton, Ryan Clowe and Joe Pavelski, San Jose has one of the grittiest and most dangerous forward groups in the league. Veteran defenseman Dan Boyle patrols the blue line, along with behemoth Douglas Murray and two promising studs, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic.

    The Sharks have ousted the Red Wings in the past, but this is a different Red Wings team. Mike Commodore will probably suit up for this game, as his size and physicality will be useful.

    The atmosphere will be elevated with a rival in town. The Wings and Sharks don't like each other, but I see Howard getting the victory in his first start back.

    Difficulty: 4

Thursday, 2/23: Vancouver Canucks

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    Mark this one down on your calenders, folks.

    In what will be a homecoming for David Booth and Ryan Kesler, the Red Wings will look to win a 24th consecutive game at the Joe when they play host to the Vancouver Canucks.

    The Sedin-led Canucks have Stanley Cup aspirations. Fueled by a heart-breaking Game 7,  home-ice exit in last year's finals, Vancouver has refocused and retooled.

    The Canucks are playing their best hockey at the most important time. With 78 points, they are once again in the race for the President's Trophy, sitting second in the Western Conference. Regular-season trophies and awards are nice, but the playoffs are what really matters.

    Vancouver has recorded points in 10 straight (8-0-2) games and will look to continue a streak of its  own on Thursday. Detroit leads the season series 2-1.

    With two excellent net-minders in Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, Vancouver has made the most of closely contested matches. Either goalie has the ability to win games regularly for his team, but the Red Wings are (hopefully) a different beast.

    Difficulty: 5

Saturday, 2/25: Colorado Avalanche

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    Things are finally on the up in Denver. After one of the better runs for a franchise in recent memory, the Avalanche fell on rough times following the lockout. This year, they sit just three points out of a playoff spot.

    With one of the youngest teams in the NHL, Colorado has a great combination of youth and chemistry. For Avs fans, this season is the step in the right direction that was expected.

    As things continue to click, young promising talents Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly, Erik Johnson and Matt Duchene will grow into a strong core.

    Despite losing the most recent contest, the Red Wings lead the season series 2-1. The Colorado Avalanche have 60 points, but are 3-5-2 in their last 10. Detroit should expect to win this game, because they know how to play this time of year. The Avalanche are one of the youngest teams in the NHL. This fault will be exposed come puck drop.

    Difficulty: 2

Friday, 3/2: Minnesota Wild

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    In what had the makings of a Cinderella season, the Minnesota Wild have turned into a colossal failure. Rife with injuries and poor team chemistry, the Wild have not taken advantage of their positioning atop the standings. With the 29th-ranked offense, the Wild average a measly 2.2 goals per game.

    With five starters sidelined, including Guillaume Latendresse and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, the immediate future is not bright in Minnesota. Goaltenders Josh Harding and Nicklas Backstrom can win games for their team. Harding did just that earlier this year, backstopping the Wild to a victory in the season series' only game.

    The Minnesota Wild are the underdog, but they do have the making of a spoiler. If the  Red Wings are to make it to March without losing at the Joe. The slow-paced, luring Minnesota style of play could pose a significant risk. The Wild make it a challenge for the the Red Wings to navigate through the neutral zone, disrupting their puck possession.

    Things are bad up north. With only 58 points, the Wild sit 12th in the Western Conference. The Wild are playing their worst hockey at the wrong time. With a 3-6-1 record in their past 10 games, the Wild are trending down, way down. It's unfortunate for the dedicated fans in Minnesota, but at this rate, the Wild could finish at the bottom of the standings.

    Difficulty: 2

Sunday, 3/4: Chicago Blackhawks

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    The Chicago Blackhawks were hailed as Stanley Cup favorites before and throughout this season. With one of the most dangerous offenses in the NHL, the Blackhawks still are a threat every night.

    The problem is, you just don't know what you'll get out of them. On a team with All-Stars Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Marian Hossa and Brent Seabrook, great things are expected. Something is wrong in Chicago. In the midst of a nine-game losing streak, the Blackhawks have shown no signs of being a contender, let alone a playoff team.

    Blackhawk players know they have only a few games to turn this season around. If they come up short, General Manager Stan Bowman will be pressured by eight million angry fans to make a move in the offseason. That is the reality of the situation.

    If the Blackhawks correct course between now and March 4th, the Red Wings need to look out. Chicago is a very streaky team. The Red Wings dropped the season opener, but have won both games since.

    Difficulty: 4

Friday, 3/9: Los Angeles Kings

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    Jonathan Quick has been a thorn in Detroit's side for a couple seasons now. The stellar American net-minder is having another excellent campaign.Third in the league with a 93.4 save percentage and 1.91 GAA, Quick has asserted himself as a darkhorse Vezina contender.

    Outside of Brian Elliot and Jaroslav Halak (St Louis Blues), there isn't a goalie in the league that does as much for his team as Quick. His six shutouts are the second-most in the NHL.

    Quick can win a game for his team, backstopping the L.A . Kings to the league's third-best GAA (2.1). Unfortunately, it's the forwards who aren't living up to expectations. Offseason acquisitions Simon Gagne and Mike Richards have been plagued by injuries and inconsistency. The Kings have the league's worst offense, averaging 2.1 goals per game.

    This game would be No. 28 in the win streak. As long as Quick doesn't stand on his head like he has in the past, the Red Wings should have a great shot at a win.

    Difficulty: 2

Monday, 3/19: Washington Capitals

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    The Washington Capitals have been more of a sideshow than legitimate contender these past couple seasons. Russian superstars Alexander Ovechkin and Alexander Semin have lost their form, while dynamic defenseman Mike Green and playmaker Nicklas Backstrom are on injured reserve.

    What's left is a team searching for an identity in the midst of a tight division race. The Capitals sit four points behind the Southeast Division-leading Florida Panthers

    Though the team lacks direction, deep playoff runs in recent seasons did produce a lot of valuable experience. If the Capitals get hot down the stretch, they can be one of the best teams in the league. The Capitals are 3-4-3 in their last 10 games and will need to correct course sooner rather than later.

    If Ovechkin and company turn it around in the next week or so, the Capitals will provide quite a challenge for the Red Wings. Ovechkin has had great games against the Red Wings in the past, but that probably won't be enough.

    If the Capitals do not correct course, they will be out of the playoff picture in a month. In that case, the Red Wings will be going up against a defeated team.

    Difficulty: 3

Saturday, 3/24: Carolina Hurricanes

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    The Carolina Hurricanes sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Expectations were high at the start of the year. The rise of promising talent Jeff Skinner was supposed to  usher in a winning atmosphere in Raleigh.

    That hasn't been the case. With the 26th-worst GAA (3.0), the Hurricanes are a young team that lacks chemistry. A midseason injury to Jeff Skinner derailed much of his sophomore campaign, affecting the performance of the team.

    Cam Ward is one of the more underrated goalies, but he has a disappointing 2.79 GA. Though the defense in Carolina isn't great, it's clear Ward hasn't been at his best this year. 

    The Hurricanes are 5-1-4 in their last 10, but still sit 11 points out of the playoffs with 53 points. Things bottomed in late November when head coach Paul Maurice was fired. Kirk Muller was brought in and has done a satisfactory job juggling all the pieces. Regardless, they'll be talking about the draft a month from now.

    The Red Wings should be careful not to overlook Carolina. Their young legs could be a problem, but the Red Wings know how to play in the spring.

    Difficulty: 2

Monday, 3/26: Columbus Blue Jackets

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    A lot can change between now and the trade deadline. Recent reports have the once untouchable Rick Nash on the trading block.  If Nash is dealt, there will be a new buzz in Columbus. Currently at the bottom of the league with 40 points, things can only get better.

    But if there are new faces with the Blue Jackets, will they have time to form a chemistry? It is especially difficult for the Blue Jackets to turn course because they have several weaknesses that need to be fixed.

    The Red Wings should have no issue handling the Blue Jackets.

    Difficulty: 1

Friday, 3/30: Nashville Predators

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    At this point in the season, there are less than 10 games left . Things will be extremely close in the standard-bearing Central Division. This game could easily be a showdown of No. 1 and 2 teams in points.

    More likely, the Predators will be battling for a mid-seed. The Red Wings always show up to play this time of year, but they must meet Nashville's level of compete. The Predators could be in a more vulnerable position, possibly just trying to make the playoffs and thus be more focused.

    If the Red Wings are able to neutralize Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, they'll be victorious. Datsyuk, Zetterberg and the rest of the Red Wings forwards are not intimidated by the All-Star pairing. They will push and challenge Pekka Rinne.

    With a playoff atmosphere of 20,000, this showdown will usher in April in the D. 

    Difficulty: 5

Sunday, 4/1: Florida Panthers

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    The Florida Panthers have well-known connections with the Chicago Blackhawks. Panthers General Manager Dale Tallon left Chicago during  the offseason and quickly acquired former players Brian Campbell, Tomas Kopecky and Kris Versteeg.

    It will be interesting to see if that exposure carries over into this game. The Panthers have exceeded expectations and sit atop the Southeast Division with 65 points

    Things got rolling from the start in south Florida, then hit a speed bump. But the Panthers look to have turned it around, with a 6-3-1 record in their past 10 games.

    Come April, the Panthers' grit and determination will be tested. There is a reason why this group of skaters was overlooked heading into the season. They are a relatively unproven bunch.

    Regardless, the Panthers will have an opportunity  to make a statement April 1st. The Red Wings'  experience should outweigh the Panthers' ability to score. 

    Difficulty: 3

Thursday, 4/5: New Jersey Devils

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    It's been a roller-coaster couple of seasons in New Jersey, but consistency has returned the past couple of weeks. With a 6-2-2 record in their past 10 games, the Devils sit sixth in the Eastern conference with 68 points.

    In what could be Martin Brodeur's final season, the Devils are eying a deep postseason run. Explosive forwards Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk are finally getting in rhythm, providing much-needed scoring.

    Other notables are Calder candidate Adam Henrique and veteran Patrick Elias. Needless to say, the Devils are a team with a unique combination of experience and youth. 

    If the Devils continue to trend up, they could be near the top of the Eastern Conference by the end of March. This will be a tough matchup for the Red Wings, especially with the Chicago Blackhawks coming into town two nights later.

    Difficulty: 4

Saturday, 4/7: Chicago Blackhawks

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    In what was supposed to be a Stanley Cup season, the Chicago Blackhawks are a handful of loses away from sinking out of the playoff picture. The Blackhawks are expected to correct course, but there have been no signs they will.

    They are in the middle of a nine-game losing streak.  By early April, the Blackhawks could be a defeated ghost of their former selves. If that's the case, their heated rivalry with the Red Wings will fuel the Blackhawks enough to make the game close.

    If the Blackhawks do turn things around, this game could be the perfect segue into the playoffs. Imagine a season-ending showdown that served only as a prelude to a first-round series.

    Difficulty: 4