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Game Preview, Predators at Red Wings, 7:30 PM

Tonight the Wings seek to extend their home win streak to 22 when they host the Nashville Predators.

We could possibly expect a letdown tonight after the euphoric madness of Tuesday’s win over Dallas, but the Wings are adamant that their real goal– favorable positioning in the standings for a long playoff run– is their main focus. “It’s cool to be part of history, but at the same time there’s no point we can just sit down and relax,” said Niklas Kronwall. “You lose a few games and all the sudden you’re in trouble. We have to keep it going and take advantage of the opportunity we have with the homestand.”

Justin Abdelkader agrees. “The West is tough, all of the top teams just seem to keep winning. Even though we’ve been winning, there’s no separation. Nashville and St. Louis just keep winning. It’s a battle. Wins in the division are going to be important.”

The Wings may be without Henrik Zetterberg tonight; Z is nursing a lower body injury. At first it was reported that he’d be out for sure tonight, but now the Freep is reporting that after today’s optional morning skate he considers himself a game time decision. Tomas Tatar has been recalled from the Griffins. If Hank can’t go, Tatar will skate on the fourth line with Cory Emmerton and Jan Mursak, and Justin Abdelkader will be promoted to the second line with Jiri Hudler and Valtteri Filppula. (Filppula will play center.) Tomas Holmstrom will take Abdelkader’s spot on the third line with Darren Helm and Drew Miller.

Danny Cleary has been skating but probably won’t return to  the lineup until Tuesday’s game at Chicago.

Jimmy Howard is slated to return Sunday against the Sharks, which leaves us with a bit of a goaltending controversy. Who’s going to be sent to the Griffins, Joey MacDonald or Ty Conklin? Ken Holland stated bluntly, “Right now, Joey is the No. 2 guy.” On one hand, Joey Mac’s stats are inarguably superior to Conk’s. But on the other hand, Conk would have to clear waivers before being assigned to the Griffins. This close to the trade deadline, teams are certainly on the hunt for cheap veteran goalies, and Kenny Holland isn’t the sort of guy who likes to lose assets for nothing. MacDonald, having a two-way contract, would not have to clear waivers. It’s also possible that the Wings could carry all three goalies on the active roster, but Holland said that’s “not an ideal option.” My feeling is that the Wings will send Joey Mac to the Griffins. Not only does this eliminate the possibility of losing a player for nothing, but it also means Joey will be playing frequently rather than sitting on the bench charting faceoffs while Howard gets the majority of the starts, keeping him in game shape in case he’s needed later in the season or in the playoffs. I won’t say Holland has never surprised me with a move before, but this scenario seems pretty likely to me.

Nashville currently sits in third place in the Central, eight points behind Detroit and five behind St. Louis.

The Predators will be without center Blake Geoffrion, as they just traded him to Montreal for defenseman Hal Gill. Nashville will also be without wingers Brian McGratton and Patric Hornqvist (both upper body injuries). Adding Gill to a blue line which already includes Shea Weber and Ryan Suter would indicate that the Preds intend on making some real noise in the playoffs this year. As for the threat Nashville poses to Detroit, tonight, I’ll let Mike Babcock say it for me: “Their goaltending is spectacular. The last two games their goalie’s been unbelievable. You get 30 minutes out of (Ryan) Suter and (Shea) Weber, and that’s the core of their group. They got two responsible centers in (David) Legwand and (Mike) Fisher. I like their team. I always hear every year how they’re overachieving, but every year I look at a team that looks pretty good to me.”

Just to be safe, I did start goalie Pekka Rinne for my fantasy team again tonight. It’s worked two times out of three so far this season, right?

Fox Sports Detroit Plus will have the game for you. My internet connection has been kind of spotty and weird today, so I may or may not have a live blog this time. I’ll do what I can.

Let’s go, Red Wings! *clap clap clapclapclap*

Game Live Blog, Red Wings at Predators

Pregame: Shea Weber will be out of the Nashville lineup, confirmed by Ken and Mickey. Darren Helm took a small injury during pregame warmups– no confirmation yet on whether Helmer will have to sit out the game or whether he just needs a few stitches.

1st period:

18:00 FSD said Helm is just getting some stitches, didn’t lose any teeth, and should be on the bench soon.

17:22 Detroit penalty, Cory Emmerton for hooking.

11:52 Some good pressure against Pekka Rinne by Todd Bertuzzi and Pavel Datsyuk after spending too much time in the defensive zone early in the period.

10:59 Helmer back on the bench looking kind of torn up.

9:03 Detroit GOAL! Valtteri Filppula takes a pass from Henrik Zetterberg and taps it past Rinne.

4:02 Nashville penalty, Ryan Ellis for interference on Helm.

1:15 Drew Miller blocks a dangerous shot by David Legwand, and Jimmy Howard clears the puck away.

0:13.5 Detroit penalty to Johan Franzen for holding.

Shots 9-8 Nashville.

2nd period:

17:02 Detroit penalty to Zetterberg for high sticking (2 minutes, not 4).

Heck of a PK effort by Helm and Stuart.

12:58 Ian White owes Howard a really nice dinner or something- he just put the puck on his own net and Tiberius had to be quick!

9:07 Howard comes up with an AWESOME glove save on Martin Erat at point blank range!

7:08 Possible Datsyuk goal going to review.

And it’s good! It was a wraparound and it was Datsyukian and the call made coach Barry Trotz look like his head might explode.

6:55 Goal for Danny Cleary! Nashville left him all alone in front of the net while Miller carried around behind at full speed and let the centering pass fly.

Shots tied 9-9.

3rd period:

15:49 Excellent glove save by Howard on Jonathon Blum after a bad turnover.

14:38 Another goal for Filppula! Cory Emmerton and Justin Abdelkader working hard in front of the net, Filppula picks up a rebound driving to the net on a line change.

12:56 Mickey reporting that Tomas Holmstrom is not on the bench at the moment.

10:22 Penalty to Jonathan Ericsson for tripping.

7:43 Datsyuk penalty for hooking.

5:16 Mike Underwood… er, excuse me, Mike Fisher for holding.

2:17 Blum ruins Howard’s shutout bid. *grumble* (Shot may have been tipped by Legwand, but recorded as Blum’s goal for now.)

1:18 Ken reports Holmstrom has a lower body injury.

WIN! Wings 4, Preds 1. Total shots 32-22 Nashville. (Forget the All-Star voting, Jimmy Howard for Vezina!)

Next up: Home game against the St. Louis Blues, Tuesday at 7:30.

Game Preview: Red Wings at Predators, 8:00 PM

It’s Division Week for the Red Wings this week, and make no mistake, the Central Division is not an easy place to be this season. Take a look at the division standings as of this morning (courtesy of Yahoo! Sports):

This week, the Wings play Nashville tonight, St. Louis on Tuesday, Chicago on Friday, and St. Louis again on Saturday. Points against division rivals are going to be like gold this season. The Central is a tight, tight race this season, and these end of December points could make a huge difference in the standings come spring. This week we don’t care if we get pretty wins and Datsyukian dekes or ugly, grinding wins. We just want wins– regulation wins, so we aren’t allowing the Predators, Blues, or Blackhawks any additional help in the standings.

Tonight we have Nashville. The Wings’ last meeting with the Predators was an unpleasant 4-3 loss at Nashville on 12/15/11. The Wings are reporting that they’ll have the same lineup of skaters tonight as they went with in Calgary on Thursday, meaning Mike Commodore will be in for Jakub Kindl. Jimmy Howard will be starting in goal.

Nashville media report that the Preds will be lacking defenseman Kevin Klein (flu-like symptoms). More importantly, they may be missing defenseman Shea Weber– you know, the guy who’s mentioned in every single online discussion about who the Wings should acquire after Nick Lidstrom retires (and may that day be long in coming). Weber left practice early today, which, reports Josh Cooper of The Tennessean, “doesn’t happen often, if ever.” Trevor Thompson of Fox Sports Detroit reports on Twitter that Weber will be out for sure for tonight’s game and Ryan Ellis has been called up from the minors to take his place. Pekka Rinne is expected to start in net. (Yes, I do have him as a starter for my fantasy team for tonight… hopefully that jinx will work again like it did on 11/26.)

The Wings do have some promising news to report on the injury front. Jan Mursak is expected to be cleared to play when he gets his (formerly) broken ankle checked by doctors on Tuesday. He will be sent to Grand Rapids to play a few games as a conditioning stint. Chris Conner is also close to returning from his hand fracture. He will be seeing a hand specialist on Wednesday to determine if he’s ready to play or if he needs more time. Patrick Eaves, unfortunately, is nowhere close to returning from his broken jaw. The team doesn’t even yet have a timeline as to when he’ll be cleared to start skating again.

2 hours to puck drop. Let’s go, Red Wings! *clap clap clapclapclap*

Game Recap: Predators 4, Red Wings 3

You know, I’ll say right now that I don’t go for the redneck jokes about the fans in Nashville (or Carolina, but they’re not really part of this conversation). My grandparents came from Kentucky, West Virginia, Alabama, and the Florida panhandle. My parents live near (but not in) Taylor, MI. (Taylor-tucky, you know.) I don’t have a lot of room to talk. And I’m also not entirely sure where I’m going with this, except maybe just to tell you that I’m going to review the goals and pertinent plays for you without a lot of commentary. Except for some obligatory grumbling about the damn WHISTLES the Nashville fans blow when Jordin Tootoo is on the ice. (And the NHL cracks down on the quiet, unassuming octopus?)

Pregame: The whole kerfuffle about the mysteriously injured mystery forward came to nothing. Tomas Tatar took the pregame warm-up, but did not play, so obviously the mystery forward was fine.

1st period: Tomas Holmstrom opened the scoring with a goal that was slightly unusual by his standards. It was a power play, and he was in front of the goal crease, and the assist was an Ian White shot from the point, but Homer didn’t deflect this one. Instead he got a rebound off Pekka Rinne and swept it into the net with a little bit of a backhand. David Legwand tied the game by getting his own rebound after Jimmy Howard made the first save. Legwand was left out in front of the net alone for too long and he picked his corner quite well. Shots 12-8 for Detroit.

2nd period: Henrik Zetterberg regained Detroit’s lead with another power play goal. Rinne was over to the right side of the net thinking to cover a possible Todd Bertuzzi shot, but Jiri Hudler’s pass found Hank instead and Hank had plenty of wide open net to shoot at. Nicklas Lidstrom added to the lead 87 seconds later with a cannon of a left point shot made possible by a faceoff win by Johan Franzen (after Pavel Datsyuk had been thrown out of the faceoff circle) and some pretty passing by Datsyuk and White. Tootoo cut the lead late in the period, following the play late and catching the rebound from Kevin Klein’s shot. Shots 15-5 for Detroit.

3rd period: Nashville tied the game with a power play goal on Detroit’s only penalty of the game, a hooking call to Howard (served by Justin Abdelkader). Shea Weber got in a point shot with traffic in front of Howard. A Weber goal also gained the lead for the Predators with just over a minute and a half left in regulation. His shot took a strange knuckleball dive just in front of the net and Howard was unable to adapt to the new trajectory in time. (See how scientific hockey can be?) The Red Wings pulled Howard for an extra skater for the remaining time, but were unable to put another shot past Rinne. Shots 13-8 for Detroit.

Notes: Holmstrom’s power play goal was the 118th of his career, moving him past Sergei Fedorov on the list of all-time Red Wings power play goal scorers.

Next game: The Red Wings host the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night at 7:00.

Game Preview: Red Wings at Predators, 8:00 PM

It’s been a wild day in the Red Wing regions of Twitter. Early this morning, Tomas Tatar (@Trto90) tweeted to the world, “Called up.:) #RedWings”. It was early enough that my first thought was, “Hey, cool, it will be good to get the kid in an NHL game!” It took me a few minutes (keep in mind I am not and have never been a coffee drinker) to think, “Wait a minute… who’s injured?!?”

As it turns out, Chris Conner fractured his hand in the Pittsburgh game the other night and is expected to be out for a couple of weeks. But Cory Emmerton will be taking his place in the lineup. So why the need for Tatar?

It’s time for another… Mike Babcock Mystery.

It seems one of our other forwards (who is absolutely not Pavel Datsyuk, Ken Holland assured reporters, in spite of an awkward looking fall Pavel took in the Pittsburgh game) is kind of banged up. This forward, who is not Datsyuk and is not Conner and is not Emmerton, may or may not be able to play tonight. If he can’t go, Tatar will be in. It’s a game time decision– both Tatar and the Mystery Player will take the pregame warm-up.

The team is certainly playing its cards close with this mystery. Ansar Khan of MLive reported that during the morning skate, Jiri Hudler spent extra time stretching and talking to team trainers while the rest of the group was skating, but that might just mean that Niklas Kronwall and Jakub Kindl made Hudler ride to Nashville in Red Bird Three’s overhead compartment instead of letting him sit in a seat. Even my TOP SECRET SOURCE (okay, it’s John Keating of Fox Sports Detroit, @JohnKeatingFSD on Twitter) had no clues or speculation on who the banged up forward might be.

The top two lines (Bertuzzi-Datsyuk-Franzen and Filppula-Zetterberg-Hudler) were left intact at the morning skate. Drew Miller was promoted to the third line to play with Darren Helm and Danny Cleary, and Emmerton will go on the fourth line with Justin Abdelkader and Tomas Holmstrom. The defense pairings remain the same and Jimmy Howard will be starting in net.

On the Nashville side of the equation, starting goaltender Pekka Rinne is coming of his third consecutive win. Rinne is looking to continue rebuilding his confidence, having previously lost seven consecutive starts. Blake Geoffrion and Jonathon Blum will not be in tonight’s lineup, as they have been recently sent to Nashville’s AHL affiliate in Milwaukee. “They’re really first-year players and they haven’t gotten as much traction as they had last year,” coach Barry Trotz said. “The whole idea is getting them playing so they can come back and get some traction in our lineup, so they’re not just struggling all year.”

Nashville’s Tuesday win over the Calgary Flames came in large part because they shot the lights out against goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, coming up with a season high of 45. (I swear to you, one day I will be able to correctly spell “Miikka” without looking it up first.) Look for the Preds to attempt the same against Howard. The Wings full puck possession skills will be needed against this Nashville group which is gaining in confidence.

Time to play keep-away with the puck!

Let’s go, Red Wings! *clap clap clapclapclap*

Game Recap: Red Wings 4, Predators 1

The Red Wings extended their winning streak to five games with a dominant 4-1 win over Nashville, but may have lost Patrick Eaves to a possible concussion.

First period: Unlike what we’ve seen many times in back to back games which include a road trip, the Wings came out strong from the start (instead of taking half a period or so to get their skating legs back under them). Valtteri Filppula opened the scoring with a gorgeous power play goal, taking a rebound off Todd Bertuzzi’s shot, spinning around, and backhanding it high over Pekka Rinne. Nashville had an almost-goal which looked like it was millimeters from crossing the line, but referee Dan O’Halloran ruled it no goal. Shots at the end of the period were 14 to 3 in Detroit’s favor. So, yeah, no road trip sluggishness there.

Second period: Henrik Zetterberg put Detroit up by two with a patient play, keeping possession of the puck behind the net, skating it out front, and waiting for Rinne to commit to a low save before shooting it high. Jiri Hudler and Filppula had the assists. Filppula added his second of the night shortly thereafter by deflecting Jakub Kindl’s point shot. The goal was originally credited to Hudler, but review determined that the puck was tipped first by Hudler then by Filppula before it went past Rinne. Shots in the second period were 11 to 5 in favor of the Wings.

Third period: Danny Cleary gave Detroit a 4-0 lead when he and Darren Helm rushed the net. Helm stole the puck from a Nashville defender and tossed it to Cleary, who tapped it past Rinne. The Predators ended Jimmy Howard’s shutout bid at 5:34 of the third when Jack Hillen scored from Colin Wilson and Martin Erat. Shots in the third were 12 to 11 in favor of Detroit.

Patrick Eaves was injured late in the game when a rising shot by rookie Roman Josi struck him in the side of the head. Eaves collapsed on the ice. The medical team brought out a stretcher, and Eaves was actually able to move up to it partially under his own power. Eaves was definitely cut, probably from where the puck knocked his helmet into his skin. He was taken to the Detroit Medical Center for further tests and observation. Josi apologized to Eaves as the stretcher was wheeled out. “I felt bad,” Josi told FOX Sports Detroit after the game. “I said that to him and he said it’s all right and he’s going to be fine.”

Can I just say, I love seeing athletes demonstrate class like this? Everyone knows it’s a dangerous sport and you run plenty of risks by playing, but I think it shows a wonderful lack of entitlement when someone is hurt and the person who accidentally caused it apologizes. And also when the person who is hurt graciously accepts the apology.

Next game: The Red Wings host their legendary captain’s new team when the Tampa Bay Lightning visit on Wednesday, 11/30/11. (TV: FOX Sports Detroit. Radio: 97.1 The Ticket.)

Notes: Mike Babcock adjusted the lines this game by putting Hudler on the second line with Zetterberg and Filppula and having Cleary play the third line with Helm and Eaves. I think we can safely say it was a successful game for both lines.

Game Preview: Predators at Red Wings, 7 PM

Perennial pains in the rump Nashville come to play at the Joe tonight.

Nashville comes in on a three game losing streak. Star defensemen Ryan Suter and Shea Weber have been their usual reliable selves, but goaltender Pekka Rinne has been unusually sieve-like. The usually solid and often spectacular Rinne was pulled after giving up three goals to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday. Then on Wednesday, Rinne and the Preds took a 1-0 lead into the third period against Minnesota and proceeded to give up three goals on eight shots, eventually losing 3-2.

Think of that. Three goals on eight shots to the Minnesota Wild. The trappiest team in the West just offensively exploded all over you.

(This may actually be partially due to my cosmic influence. I made a point of choosing Rinne for my fantasy team this year. I figured he’d either play lights out like he did last season and bring my fantasy team to glory, or he’d tank like my fantasy goalies almost always do and make the Central Division an easier place for Detroit. Nashville’s opponents can thank me later.)

That said, Nashville always brings their A game against the Red Wings and they should not be taken lightly. Furthermore, the Minnesota Wild just offensively exploded all over them. This is humiliating. This is likely to result in a Nashville team looking to take out some aggressions.

Detroit comes in having put away the defending champion Bruins yesterday, but the win was not exactly a pretty one. The Wings were outplayed by the Bruins for considerable stretches of the game, and it was superb goaltending from Jimmy Howard which kept them in it long enough to give them a chance to win.

Travel time may also be a concern for the Red Wings, although it helps that yesterday’s game was a matinee, which should mean that everyone was home and tucked in to bed at a reasonable hour. Pavel Datsyuk’s resurgent offense with Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen on his wings could rattle Rinne since he’s already feeling a lack of confidence, but goalies have strange mental focus abilities ordinary humans don’t. The key will be to test him early and often.

George Malik reports from the morning skate that Patrick Eaves will be in the lineup in place of Cory Emmerton (healthy scratch) tonight. Jimmy Howard will be getting his 15th straight start. (The possibility of wearing out the goalie is an issue that will be addressed later.)

Let’s go, Red Wings! *clap clap clapclapclap*