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Behind Enemy Lines: Detroit Red Wings playing rare meaningless games

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The Wings come to PNC for a back-to-back while playing out the string.

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The last time the Detroit Red Wings failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs, George H.W. Bush was in the White House, Pretty Woman was the top box office hit, and Jaromir Jagr was still six months away from his NHL debut. However, this season the Red Wings will once again be on the outside looking in of the NHL postseason. It's been n incredible run for one of the most storied franchises in the NHL, and something that will likely not be approached in the modern era in terms of postseason streaks.

With the Canes trying to reel in the Boston Bruins for the final wildcard spot in the Eastern Conference, they have an opportunity to pick up four points in just over 24 hours on home ice against an also-ran. In order to continue their torrid pace (7-0-3 in their last 10 games), the Canes will need to corral veteran Henrik Zetterberg, who at age 36 is having one of his finest seasons of his career. His 62 total points leads the Red Wings, with Tomas Tatar and Gustav Nyquist a distant second on the team with a total of 40 points each.

Also speaking to the unique nature of the upcoming two contests, the Red Wings arrived in Raleigh following a 3-2 overtime victory against the Minnesota Wild on Sunday. That means that game one of the back-to-back at PNC will already be the second game of what is actually a back-to-back-to-back for the Red Wings. In fact, it is right in the middle of a stretch of five games in seven days for the Red Wings. The Hurricanes must take advantage of the likely weary Wings with their speed if they hope to vault themselves further up the Eastern Conference standings.

In discussing the Red Wings 2016-2017 season, you can point to a number of factors which have led to their current standing at 30-32-12. The loss of former star Pavel Datsyuk to a career back home in Russia, the lack of growth the younger talent which Detroit expected to blossom in Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou, and the erosion of the production of former role players who have aged and perhaps are being asked to do to much in players such as Justin Abdelkader, Darren Helm, Danny DeKeyser, Luke Glendening and Niklas Kronwall.

But one of the biggest disappointments would have to be the play of Petr Mrazek in net. The 24-year old Mrazek was expected to be the next lead goalie in the Motor City, but his disappointing .901 save percentage in 46 appearances led to the Wings looking to 32-year old Jimmy Howard to make 20 starts in the season to this point. With Mrazek now in flux as the goalie of the present and the future in Detroit, the needs far outweigh the assets on this once great roster. Perhaps, like many goalies who have had hiccups in their ascension to NHL starters, Mrazek will pull together and become the backstop the Red Wings believed he could be, but if he does not, the Red Wings will be in search of help in that spot in the very near future.

As a team, the Wings are in danger of not cracking the 200 goal mark as a team, and are on pace to finish in the bottom six in the league in goals, something that has not happened in Detroit in the modern expansion era. Coupled with allowing the 10th most goals in the league this season, the Wings’ struggles have very much been an all-around issue.

One of the more shocking stats is that the Red Wings are currently 29th in Power Play percentage at 13.98%, which is an area that the Red Wings have long thrived at, including a 13th place finish just a season ago. For the Hurricanes to win these two games which they desperately need, they must make sure that special teams continues to trend away from the Wings, and force the veteran Wings into an up and down pace which better suits Carolina. If they can control the pace and win the special teams battle, the Canes should have an opportunity to make up some serious ground in the next 48 hours.

What to Watch For

  • An underrated aspect of being at home is controlling last change. While Bill Peters has certainly done his share of shuffling the lines of late, expect him to find a way to get the Jaccob Slavin pairing on the ice against the Zetterberg line as often as possible the next two days.
  • Expect that Eddie Lack and Cam Ward will split the two games against Detroit, but who gets the nod tonight is anyone’s guess as Peters has been consistently inconsistent with his assignments of late. Lack has won his last four, with a .954 save percentage in those contests, which would certainly qualify him for the “hot goalie” status for this team.
  • Darren Helm and Niklas Kronwall are expected to be out for the two games in Raleigh, joining Jonathan Ericsson and Johan Franzen on the injury list for the Red Wings down the stretch.