Tonight is the third of four games between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche. The Wings lead the series 2-0 with wins December 27 (4-2) and January 8th (1-0). The final game will be played on February 18th in Denver.
The puck drops at 7:30 ET.
The 27-20-4 Avalanche are 5-3-1 since losing to the Wings on the 8th. They lost on the 9th to Washington, but went on to win three in a row against other Southeast Division teams (Carolina, Florida, and Tampa Bay) before an overtime loss to Chicago on the 18th halted that streak.
They beat the Blue Jackets at home on the 20th, but lost their next two, beginning with a 4-0 decision to the Predators and continuing with a 3-2 loss to division rival Minnesota. They returned from the All Star Break with a win, however, notching a 6-3 victory over Chicago on Wednesday to round out a five-game homestand.
With 58 points, Colorado is third in the Northwest Division, but are only three points out of first. Currently they are seventh in the West, but they could easily move up to third, fifth, or sixth, as the teams in those spots have 61, 60, and 60 points respectively.
They could also fall in the standing pretty easily, as there are four teams within two points of them.
The Avs have been without Joe Sakic (groin) since November 30th, but two more recent injuries/health problems have exacted a heavy toll on their offense. Ryan Smyth broke his ankle on December 31st and Paul Stastny's appendix problem has kept him out since January 15th. Kyle Cumiskey (groin) is the other injured Colorado player.
Kurt Sauer (whiplash) was activated yesterday and should return to the lineup tonight.
Stastny leads the team in points with 49, but Milan Hejduk (37) and Andrew Brunette (35) lead Colorado's active players. Marek Svatos' 22 goals is a team high. Nine of those have come since Smyth went down.
Five other Avs have 10 or more goals: Hejduk (18), Stastny (17), Wojtek Wolksi (14), Brunette (11), and Smyth (11).
Peter Budaj will get his second start since sitting out 10 games in favor of Jose Theodore. Budaj is 14-8-2 this season, with a 2.68 GAA and an .899 save-percentage.
The Wings are 5-2-1 since beating the Avs on the 8th. They followed that game with a three-game skid, losing in a shootout to Minnesota 10th and continuing with regulation losses to Ottawa and Atlanta.
They pulled out of that dive with a shootout win over Vancouver on the 17th and went on to sweep California, wrapping up that trip with a win over Anaheim in their final game before the All Star Break. They returned to action on Wednesday and earned a comeback win over a scrappy Phoenix team at home.
Detroit stands atop the Central, Western Conference, and League standings with 80 points.
Henrik Zetterberg leads the team in goals and points with 29 and 62. Pavel Datsyuk is not far behind with 61 points, 44 of which are assists.
Aside from Zetterberg, five Wings have 10 or more goals: Tomas Holmstrom (20), Dan Cleary (19), Datsyuk (17), Valtteri Filppula (15), and Jiri Hudler (11).
I'd say tonight's a good night for Cleary to crack the 20-goal barrier.
The Wings lost a key part of their defense Wednesday night when Niklas Kronwall went down with a sternoclavicular joint injury. He'll be out for at least 10 days.
Brett Lebda (wrist) is slated to return to the ice tonight after sitting out the Phoenix game due to an injury sustained in Anaheim.
Derek Meech will play his second game in a row after subbing for Brett Lebda on Wednesday. He'll give the Wings six defensemen in Kronwall's absence.
Because I was not able to watch the whole game Wednesday night, I don't know whether Babcock stuck with the same lines with which he started. It's possible he may go back to that arrangement, which had Franzen centering the second line, Draper skating between Maltby and Drake, and Filppula centering Kopecky and Hudler.
With Kronwall out, Chelios will take on more responsibility and play more minutes. I can't see Babcock putting Meech with Lebda very often, though, so there will probably be some rotation that second pairing.
If Meech is out there, expect to see Chelios with him.
Dominik Hasek is scheduled to start tonight.
For more of the Wings' perspective, see Snapshots, Abel to Yzerman, HockeyTownTodd, Behind the Jersey, No Pun Intended, Red Wings Nation, yzerman is god, Detroit Hockey, LetsGoWings, and Winging It In Motown. Todd already has his usual numbers posted.
The last time these teams met, the Avalanche played the Wings very tightly, imitating their puck possession style quite well. I don't see them matching the Wings that closely this time, but despite their injuries, they remain a young and dangerous team.
Detroit will have to be sharp and have a better first period than they had Wednesday.
While the rest of the team has had a chance to regain their sealegs if you will, Dominik Hasek has not played since last Wednesday. It will be interesting to see if he can pick up where he left off without any lapses in concentration.
If his teammates play tight hockey in front of him, there should be no problem in that regard.
Despite the fact that the old rivalry seems nonexistent these days, it's still the Wings and the Avalanche, and that should mean good hockey, depleted Colorado roster or not.