The Wings entered this past week looking to build off of a strong win against the Ducks, their first in 7 games. We previewed the 3 games the Wings would play against the Avalanche, Oilers and Stars, and I said that the Wings' problems scoring were behind them and they would win all 3. If you'll forgive me a moment, I'll just blow on my fingernails confidently and direct you back to that post to show that I was indeed correct, and the Wings were able to go 3-0, outscoring their opponents 13-4 in that time.
A 3-0 shutout of the Oilers was sandwiched between identical 5-2 wins against the Avs and Stars, ending a homestand in which the Wings lost the first 2 games but still ended up with 9 of a possible 12 points, moving them back into a playoff position and within striking distance of Chicago for the division lead.
That sound you hear is the rest of the NHL turning their heads and taking notice of a Red Wing team that seems to figured out that it's all about simplicity when struggling to score. If you'll notice, the majority of the Wings' goals lately have been simple plays generated off of turnovers or by just going to the dirty areas to battle for loose pucks. We talked a lot about how lack of execution and effort were more the Wings' problems rather than talent during THE STREAK, and it's obvious that Babcock's message was received loud and clear.
So after a perfect week in which the Wings took 6 out of 6 points, what do they do for an encore? They head west in search of gold (and more points) for their first California road trip of the year. Last year, the Wings went 2-0-1 and 1-1-1 on their 2 trips, winning the first game both times and losing the last game both times. On their second trip, they began with a game against the Sabres in Buffalo before heading out to Cali.
Tuesday at Blues: The Blues got off to a rocky start that saw them go 6-7 in their first 13 games. Enter The 'Cock, Ken Hitchcock, who did the right thing by staying as far away from Columbus as he could get and ending up in St. Louis. Since his arrival, the Blues are 2-0-1 with 2 shutouts, identical 3-0 wins against the Blackhawks and Lightning. T.J. Oshie has stayed sober long enough to share the team lead in scoring with Kevin Shattenkirk, who was picked up in that absolute robbery of a deal with the Avs last season. The weakness on the Blues so far? That would be super-stud Jaroslav Halak, whose sub-.900 SV% has allowed him to win exactly 2 of his 9 starts this year. Brian Elliott has taken up the slack and is putting up very impressive stats.
Thursday at Sharks: We all know what this game means. The Sharks are quickly rising to the top of the "hated" list for Wing fans based on 2 years of playoff exits at their hands and the fact they still continue to believe that Joe Thornton is a quality human being. However, when someone has knocked your team out for 2 years straight, it's tough to talk any shit about them (right, Phoenix?) That's not going to stop me, though, despite the Sharks' early season success. After sucking for the first week or so, the Sharks have turned things around and are hunting the Dallas (All)-Stars for first in the Pacific. The Wings lost their first meeting of the season with the Sharks in a game in which the Wings played well, but where their scoring touch was still locked away in the closet where Patrick Marleau keeps his guts.
Saturday at Kings: The Kings were the hot pick to do some damage this year with the addition of Mike Richards and Drew Doughty finally signing the deal that he deserved (nope), and after Jonathan Quick earned 3 shutouts in the first couple of weeks of the season, it looked as if the pundits were going to be right. However, in what should be a familiar story to Wing fans, the Kings have had trouble with their scoring as of late, and they are 2-3-1 in November so far. As usual, Anze Kopitar is the biggest threat on the Kings, racking up 21 points in LA's first 17 games, but Richards seems to be struggling to Pacific Time as he's only scored 4 goals so far. Detroit might want to stay out of the box: the Kings have the league's 8th best power play.
Sunday at Ducks: The Wings used the Ducks as the ultimate slumpbuster, ripping them apart in a 5-0 win and taking advantage of a tired Anaheim team. The Wings will be the ones playing on the back-to-back this time around, although LA-to-Anaheim is not exactly cross-country in terms of travel. The Ducks have underachieved so far this year, especially reigning MVP Corey Perry. After being the only NHLer to score 50 goals a year ago, his 6 goals in 17 games have him on pace for 29 this season, which is more in line with his career average and making it a lot easier to say that last year was a fluke. Unfortunately for Anaheim, he's their leading goal scorer, meaning that Jonas Hiller has even more pressure on him. Too bad he's sitting with a GAA over 3 and a SV% under .900.
I called for a perfect week last week, but I'm not about to tempt fate again. While the Wings are playing very well, they are going to be up against better competition this week and a few losses might be in the offering. The Blues are the same mediocre team despite having a new coach, and if the Wings bring the same effort and hustle tomorrow night that they did against the Stars and Oilers, I don't see the Blues winning. The West Coast road trip is another story, and as much as I want to do it, I don't truly believe the Wings win all 3 games.
I think that the Wings will want to send a message to the Sharks in their meeting, and this will be the first of multiple wins against San Jose this season. However, I see them at best splitting the games against the Ducks and Kings, maybe even losing both (with one of the losses being in extra time). 5 out of 8 points would not be terrible on this trip, but the quality of the play is something that I'll be watching just as much as the outcomes.