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Behind Enemy Lines: Detroit Red Wings in an unfamiliar spot

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It’s the first trip to Raleigh this year for the struggling Wings, who are looking to keep a long streak going.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Red Wings are the owners of a fabulous history and a tremendous streak. They have currently made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 25 consecutive seasons. Just take a moment if you are a Hurricanes fan who has not seen the playoffs since 2009 to think about that.

But that streak is in serious jeopardy as we approach Christmas, as the Wings are a pedestrian 14-14-4, and hovering nine points out of a playoff spot. While injuries to Justin Abdelkader, Johan Franzen and Darren Helm have not helped, the aging roster has not quite been fortified by the fresh blood that has allowed more than a generation of Wings teams to clear the regular season bar in the past.

When you look at the numbers, everything indicates them being exactly the team that their record says they are. They are average. Nothing exceptional, nothing that would define them as a team. They appear to be a collection of average talent performing exactly to their ability.

That being said, there have been bright spots that have allowed them to at least stay within some semblance of striking distance. Henrik Zetterberg, at age 36, has been able to provide 21 points to lead the team through 32 games. While this isn’t on pace with some of the spectacular seasons put up by Zetterberg in his prime, his solid contribution has served as an offensive backbone for the team.

Additionally, Jimmy Howard has been excellent in his opportunities in net, as he continues a timeshare with Petr Mrazek. Howard sports a 1.95 goals against average and a sparkling .934 save percentage.

Beyond that however, the rest of the roster is filled with disappointments. No shortcoming has been more noted than the slow start from Dylan Larkin. A rookie wunderkind a season ago, tallying 45 points, Larkin has accrued only 12 points in 32 games, while carrying a minus-10 by his name. A player once viewed as the potential centerpiece has taken a slight step back in the early going, and along with the under-performing Gustav Nyquist (17 points) and Tomas Tatar (14 points) - two of the Wings who are actually in what would be considered their prime - the offensive production in Detroit has been a disappointment.

As a team, the Wings are currently 24th in goals scored, and are squarely in the middle of the pack in goal prevention at 15th league-wide. The Wings enter tonight’s game following a 6-4 victory over the Ducks, which snapped a four-game losing streak. On special teams, the Hurricanes would appear to match up well with Detroit. The league’s top penalty kill will face the Wings 29th ranked power play (just 12.96%), while the Canes 8th ranked power play with deal with the 12th ranked penalty kill (82.8%).

One of the keys to tonight’s game will also be Bill Peters matching the speed lines of the Wings appropriately and the more grinding, positional-based Wings lines with his best matchups. Expect to see lots of Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce against lines that include Dylan Larkin and/or young Andreas Athanasiou to negate their speed edge. Utilizing the last change advantage at home correctly could go a long way in creating the matchups that give the Canes the upper hand in tonight’s contest.

What To Watch For

  • Defenseman Mike Green left the game vs Anaheim with an undisclosed injury and is out for tonight’s game. Green is the leader in points on the Detroit blueline, and second leading scorer on the team, so his absence leaves a hole that will need filling.
  • With tonight being the first of a back-to-back for the Wings, who is between the pipes will be interesting to see. Mrazek got the win in their last game, but allowed 4 goals. With a pending divisional battle in Tampa tomorrow, expect to see whomever the Wings deem to be “1B” in their timeshare.
  • Carolina has not won at home against the Red Wings since April 6, 2011. The Canes will try to end that bit of history with a solid effort tonight.