Who: Detroit Red Wings (5-2-0)
When: Tonight, 9:00PM EST
The Dangermen: As it’s been for the last several years, the headliners are the ever dangerous Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg.
Through the first seven games of the season, they are 1-2 in team scoring, with Zetterberg leading the team in both goals (5) and points (9). They have been the catalysts behind any success the Red Wings have had in the last several years and will likely be that this year.
Zetterberg is a silky smooth, smart veteran whose skill isn’t quite as obvious as the dazzling Datsyuk. While the latter is deking and dancing his way through the opposition, Zetterberg uses a strong puck possession game and strong playmaking skills to control the play and create chances. He’s strong on the puck, so knocking him off isn’t as easy as it would seem. Keeping these to relatively in check is going to be big for the Avalanche.
During the Red Wings’ current three-game winning streak, Daniel Alfredsson has been spitting red hot fire. He’s got five points in that span is starting to look comfortable in his new digs. He may not look right in the red and white yet, but once you forget his time in Ottawa and the way he left in the summer (a steel chair to the head may have been better), it’ll start to feel more normal.
Behind those guys, there is a solid, deep group of veterans to worry about. Todd Bertuzzi and Johan Franzen, two big, bullish looking gents, are ahead of the rest of the pack on the stat sheet. Their job is going to be to park in front of Semyon Varlamov and keep him from seeing shots on net. It’s a rough job, but someone’s gotta do it.
Stephen Weiss, Danny Cleary, Justin Abdelkader, Joakim Anderson, and the rest provide a solid, if unspectacular presence. They’re taught to keep mistakes to a minimum and while they won’t blow you away with skill or scoring, they’ll make the right decisions and set the table for the stars to do their thing.
This is a deep, talented, experienced group that can hurt a team that’s not on its game. The Avalanche can’t give up the chances they did last game against Dallas, otherwise the Red Wings will hurt them and hurt them badly.
The Defenders: Top d-man Niklas Kronwall is having himself a season. He’s got six points (five assists) through his first seven games and sits at a plus-five. He’s also the biggest physical presence on the blue line; he’s known for throwing huge, sometimes questionable hits all over the ice, so the Avalanche forwards will have to keep their heads up.
Joining him on the top pairing is Jonathan Ericsson, either a solid defenseman or the focus of everyone’s ire depending on the day of the week in Motown. He’s got a little bit of an offensive touch (1-1-2 through seven games) and generally keeps himself out of trouble defensively, but he’s clearly the sidekick on this pairing.
Behind them, Kyle Quincey, Jakub Kindl, and Brian Lashoff aren’t very likely to contribute offensively but they do their job in their own end and that’s the number one priority.
The wild card is Danny DeKeyser, the latest coveted college free agent to come to the NHL (Justin Schultz started the trend). He’s big, he’s talented, and he’s got tons of potential, but he’s young and new to the NHL game. He’s the kind of player right now that could be a huge factor in this game for either team.
Puck Stoppers Inc.: Normally, this is where we talk about Jimmy Howard and how he’s stepped into the elite among goaltenders in the NHL. But he’s off tonight.
In his stead is Jonas Gustavsson. He’s never faced the Avalanche before, but he’s 2-0-0 on the young season, surrendering just three goals on 67 shots for a 1.50 GAA and a .955 save percentage. Small sample sizes apply, but that’s some solid work so far.
Some may remember “The Monster” from the hype he received during his time in Sweden before making the jump to the NHL as a member of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He struggled during his time there before landing with the Red Wings last season. He wasn’t terribly good last year – 2-2-1 with a 2.92 GAA and an appalling .879 save percentage – so there’s a chance he could fall apart at any minute.
How the Avs match up: The Avs have been keeping up their winning ways despite a lackluster performance against the Stars on Tuesday night and an absurd amount of shots allowed on most nights.
Their speed and attacking, aggressive style seems like it would be the way to get the Red Wings off their game tonight, but that was also a key on Tuesday and the team looked sluggish. If they look that way tonight, the Red Wings will not only make them pay but will hand them their first loss.
Staying out of the penalty box will be big. I don’t care how well this penalty kill has been playing; if they don’t stay out of the box, the Red Wings will eventually make them pay. Be disciplined, be smart, skate hard.
Key Matchup: Detroit’s deep, experienced forwards vs the shaky Avs defense
Cower in fear if: The Avs look as sluggish as they did on Tuesday night.
Detroit’s forwards use their puck possession skills to sustain extended possessions in the Avs zone.
Gustavsson continues his strong play.
Laugh maniacally if: Varlamov plays his nards off. (this may just stay here forever and ever)
The defense limits chances, stays with their man, and keeps shots to the perimeter.
The forwards are flying around like normal, pressuring the Red Wings into making quicker and quicker decisions.
Silly predictions: MacKinnon has his worst game to date and fails to get a point for the first time; references to Patrick Roy and the Red Wings/Avs rivalry of the ‘90s get about 47 mentions; Matt Duchene has his worst game, but Ryan O’Reilly has his best; Paul Stastny finally gets his first goal.
Final: 3-2 Red Wings