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Behind Enemy Lines: Previewing the Red Wings, Devils, Penguins and Sabres

A busy week begins with the completion of the road trip against two cellar-dwellers.

NHL: Detroit Red Wings at New Jersey Devils Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports

Detroit Red Wings

Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. at Little Caesars Arena

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Detroit Red Wings Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

The Detroit Red Wings are in a class of their own this season. Sitting at just 39 points on the season, the Wings are in the basement by themselves, a full 21 points behind the next worst team in the NHL. In the heat of a hyper-competitive playoff chase, the Canes can ill-afford to stumble on a visit to Motown to take on the Wings. With that said, the Wings are not totally hapless. They are currently riding a two-game winning streak after taking down the Blackhawks and the Lightning, proving that on any given night they are capable of striking.

This season has been an excruciating experience for the once dominant franchise. Their record shows they are the worst team in the league by a wide margin, and the overall stats do nothing to refute that standing. Dead last in the league in goals scored, while allowing the most goals in the league, is a sure-fire recipe for carnage. Veteran netminder Jimmy Howard’s stat line tells the most gruesome statistical tale on the roster. His 2-23-2 record is indicative of the .882 save percentage he lays claim to. Everywhere you look on the Red Wings roster, there are the classic signs of a forgotten season.

Perhaps the most desperate to return the Wings to glory is the young duo if Dylan Larkin and Tyler Bertuzzi. Both have suited up for all 70 games for the Wings, and they are far and away the most potent offensive performers for the Wings as Larkin (53 points) has put together a solid year with Bertuzzi (47 points) not far behind. Both are going to have 20+ goal seasons on a team that was basically devoid of offense outside of their work together. They represent the base that the next good Wings team will hopefully be built around, along with Anthony Mantha. Nevertheless, there remains a significant amount of work to get the Wings back to prominence as they begin to build again under former-Wing Hall of Famer Steve Yzerman.

Tuesday night, the Canes must get out in front early. Removing the desire from the team that is floundering at this point can go a long way in terms of making your job easier as the game progresses. The Canes will also need to bring their own energy, as you can likely expect that the crowd will be less than robust on Tuesday in Detroit. If the Canes can bring a solid level of emotion and effort, they should be able to take care of one of the cellar-dwellers of the NHL.

New Jersey Devils

Thursday, 7:00 p.m. at Prudential Center

NHL: New Jersey Devils at New York Rangers Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

After visiting the last place team in the entire NHL on Tuesday, the Canes will head to Newark to take on the last place team in the Metropolitan Division on Thursday. The New Jersey Devils sit at NHL .500 (28-28-12) after claiming points in eight of their last nine contests (6-1-2), and are poised to continue to play spoiler for each of their division rivals. Another goal-hungry team following the early season trade of Taylor Hall to Arizona, the Devils held on to their leading scorer in Kyle Palmieri, who is bidding for a second 30-goal season down the stretch (25 goals, 20 assists). Blake Coleman was dealt to Tampa, but Nikita Gusev (43 points) and Travis Zajac (25 points) were veterans who remained on the roster despite the possibility that the Devils could look to further their tear down in hopes of rebuilding.

In terms of the pieces the Devils did unload, it is unlikely that the Canes will benefit from the return of Sami Vatanen in time for a possible reunion in Newark. His blueline work is something that the Canes greatly anticipate, especially on the power play moving forward.

Perhaps the one bright spot for the Devils for much of the season has been the work of MacKenzie Blackwood in net. The 23-year-old has taken over the starting reigns from oft-injured Cory Schneider and has put together a solid campaign. His .915 save percentage and 2.74 goals against have provided the Devils with 46 games of solid goal-tending that has allowed an otherwise deficient roster to compete at times. The Devils appear to have found their goalie for the immediate future.

In order to close out this crucial road trip with a positive performance, the Canes will need to make sure to be as physical and dogged as they were in the Valentine’s Day meeting in Raleigh in which they won 5-2. They made life difficult on the Devils by never letting them truly possess the puck with any space and kept most of the offensive work from New Jersey on the outside. If the Canes can control the pace and style of play like that again, they should be well positioned to grind out another victory.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Saturday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Pittsburgh Penguins will return the favor this coming weekend and visit the Canes on Saturday night, less than a week after the Canes decisive 6-2 win in Pittsburgh on Sunday. For a deeper look at the Pens roster, check out last week’s Behind Enemy Lines. For the purposes of this week, we’ll look at the recent woes of the visitors from the Steel City.

Losers now of eight of their last ten games, the Penguins still occupy the third spot in the Metro Division race, but their grip is loosening as they sit just three points ahead of the Blue Jackets and five ahead of the Canes and Islanders. With a division-heavy schedule (12 of their final 14) the rest of the way, including three more against the Canes over a two week period, the Penguins must turn around their recent issues in order to remain a playoff team.

Based on their history, you have to believe that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and the rest of the Pens core will figure out a way to turn this around, which means their struggles make them more of a ticking time bomb than a mortally wounded team as the stretch drive commences. With a three-game divisional road trip this week, expect the Pens to amp up their intensity and put together a far better effort this week as well as on Saturday in the rematch with the Canes. In order to come away with the critical two points, the Canes must be even better than they were on Sunday, which is a tall task.

Buffalo Sabres

Sunday, 5:00 p.m. at KeyBank Center
Next Tuesday, 7:00 p.m. at PNC Arena

NHL: Winnipeg Jets at Buffalo Sabres Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Relegated to an also-ran once again in the Atlantic Division, the Buffalo Sabres have fallen short on both ends of the ice. Offensively, they have been unable to provide a consistent running mate for Jack Eichel (35 goals, 42 assists), who is far and away the most potent offensive weapon on his team. He has accounted on the scoresheet in some way on over 40% of the goals the Sabres have scored, meaning that if you can corral Eichel in some form or fashion, you have a pretty good chance of containing the Sabres attack.

In net, the Sabres have relied on a tandem of Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark. The veteran Hutton has been a disappointment with a .898 save percentage in 31 games, while the younger Ullmark has actually provided some hope that he may be able to take over the larger portion of play in 2020-21. He has posted a .914 save percentage and a decent 2.72 goals against average in 33 games.

The depth scoring that the Sabres thought they would possess has simply never played out. Former Cane Jeff Skinner has perhaps been the greatest disappointment, notching just 23 points in 58 games played to date. He was seen as a perfect complement to Eichel when acquired, and his efforts early last season seemed to prove that out, until his numbers took a tumble this season. With their power play settling in the bottom-third of the league, the Sabres have been pressed more and more to create offense in five-on-five, but have struggled to consistently do so.

Currently, the Sabres have matched a season-long six game losing skid. The Canes hope the Sabres do not awake from their late-season slumber, as they will be taking on the Sabres in what amounts to a home and home (with an off day in between) beginning in Buffalo on Sunday. If the Canes can keep Eichel off the board, or at least limit his impact, they will given themselves an excellent chance at success.