As we gear up for the final week of the 2015-2016 regular season and (hopefully) get ready to look ahead to the upcoming NHL playoffs, let’s take a look back at the week that was as well as the upcoming week that is for the Wings.
After a rough week that saw the Wings turn a 4-0 lead after two periods into a diamond making 4-3 win at home against Montreal sandwiched in between getting embarrassed by Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh by a total score of 13-4, the Wings came into the second to last week of the season on the outside of the playoffs but with their fate still squarely in their own hands. They entered three points back of Boston but with a game in hand a good week by the Wings would put them at worst a point behind Boston and set up a near winner takes all showdown for the third spot in the Atlantic Division.
Monday: Home v. Buffalo
Result: W, 3-2
The Wings came out sluggish early on and it seemed like our worst fears as Wings fans could actually become a reality this year. But then Larkin found some loose change and deposited it on the suddenly viable power play to give the Wings, their fans and the season life. By the time the horn sounded for the end of the second period the Wings were outshooting Buffalo 20-9 and an absolute beauty of a snipe by Sheahan off the rush had the Wings up 2-0. The third period was fairly uneventful until what was seen at the time as a game icing empty netter by Glendening turned into the game winner as Buffalo scored twice in the last three minutes of the game to turn it into yet another one goal game for the Wings.
Tuesday: At Montreal
Result: L, 4-3
Stop me if you heard this one before this season. The Wings start ok but cannot get anything, the other team scores and all of a sudden the ice tilts into their favor. That pretty much spells out the first period for the Wings in this one. The middle frame though did show some playoff type hockey from the boys as they got well placed shots by Nyquist and Green after some good puck movement and hard work greasy one from Mantha in front of the net to take the lead at the end of the second period. Unfortunately the fragility of this team showed itself again in the third as simply are not able to shake off an early bad bounce off Ericsson’s skate that lead momentarily to the game being tied. The goal being waived off due to goalie interference on a challenge by the Wings really just prolonged the inevitable in this one as Montreal scored minutes later to tie it and then again with eight minutes left in the game to regain the lead. The Wings would have a couple chances late but as happened far too often this season are unable to bury them.
Friday: Home v. Minnesota
Result: W, 3-2
The Wings came out of the gate well, pushing hard in the Minnesota zone but as has been their way this season they fail to capitalize. After a horrible turnover, a clanged post and an Abby-Suter kerfuffle Larkin opens the scoring on the now starting to surge power play. Some very shaky play and a phenomenal goal saving recovery by DeKeyser takes the Wings into the break leading 1-0. The second period brings more shaky defense by the Wings, another awful turnover that Minnesota turns into a goal and probably the play of the week from Nyquist and Tatar as they team up to do their best Euro Twins impression with Goose throwing a no look backhand pass back to Tatar who beats Dubnyk to the short side post to make it 2-0 at the time. The start of the third sees the Wings come out pressing the issue again and are eventually rewarded as Sheahan stays hot and pots his second goal of the week to make it 3-1. The Wings of course refuse to allow their fans any breathing room and give one back before gently and quietly closing the door on the game.
Saturday: At Toronto
Result: W, 3-2
This game seemed to feel more like a Saturday game in December than a must win for the Wings, mostly in the right kind of ways though. There was little to no panic in the Wings game and Babcock seemed to do the Wings a solid by starting the very green Garrett Sparks. The recently reliable power play added yet another goal, this time on a shot from just above the left faceoff dot by Richards. Later on Green would step up and rip a slapper past a partially screened Sparks and the Wings once again took a 2-0 lead to the locker room. Yet again the change in period leads to a change in the Wings play as they go from solid to leaky faucet in the second, allowing the young Leafs to get back into the game. Beyond that, Kadri takes a cheap shot at Glendening and Green gets away with bad turnover with a good penalty. The third was more of the same from both sides with a blast by Quincey from the high slot and a late goal by Nylander accounting for the final scoring. The story of the game really was Jimmy though as he made several big saves throughout the night to backstop the Wings to a huge two points and third place in the division going into the last week of the season.
Record coming into the week: 37-27-11 (85pts, 4th in Atlantic/9th in East)
Record for the week: 3-1-0 (6pts)
Record at the end of the week: 40-28-11 (91pts, 3rd in Atlantic/8th in East)
3 Octopi of the Week (Wings version of 3 Stars)
Riley Sheahan (2 Goals, 2 Assists) – Goals in two games, points in three of the four, FO% above 60% in three of the four…Riley had himself a pretty good week.
Jimmy Howard (.917 SV%, 3 wins) – Others got the limelight, but Jimmy was the biggest reason the Wings beat the Leafs…well, besides Babs putting Garrett Sparks in net.
Gustav Nyquist (1Goal, 2 Assists) – Close one between Goose and Datsyuk. Edge went to Goose because he scored a goal and his pass to set up Tatar’s goal against Minnesota was simply exquisite.
Squid of the Week
Jonathan Ericsson – Another toss up, this one between Riggy and his on again/off again pairing partner Kronwall. Both put up points (5 assists between the two of them) but both also looked lost at times in their own zone. Flip a coin on this one really.
Record at the beginning of the week: 40-28-11 (91pts, 3rd in Atlantic/8th in East)
The Wings find themselves in what is becoming an all too familiar feeling over the last few seasons. They enter into the last week of the regular season with unfinished work to be done in order to secure a playoff spot. I have to be honest, this is probably the least confident I have been that they will do what needs to be done to get into the playoffs since the streak began. Three games in four nights against tough Eastern Conference teams, two of which are in a direct fight with the Wings for a playoff spot. Katie bar the door because this week will certainly be no place for a nervous person.
Wednesday: Home v. Philadelphia
The week begins with the last home game of the season. A game in hand and games against the young Leafs, banged up Penguins and reeling Islanders puts Philly in the driver seat for the final Wild Card spot but a win here would put the Wings in position to clinch the third spot in the Atlantic with a regulation win in Boston on Thursday.
Keys to the Game
Stay out of the Penalty Box
Philly drew 16 penalties and scored four PP goals last week in three games, including all three in a 3-2 win against Ottawa. They only scored two at even strength.
Keep the PP humming
Of the 12 goals the Wings scored last week, six were on the PP. That was tops in the NHL for the week. They are going to need to keep the PP hot against a Flyers team that was one of the best PK teams in the NHL in March but has already given up 3 PP goals on 6 chances their first two games in April.
Be aggressive against the fore-check
Speed kills in the modern NHL and we have seen at times what the Wings can do with the collective speed their have in their forwards. We have also seen what can happen when the defensemen dilly around in their own zone and allow an aggressive fore-checking team to come at them. The Flyers are an aggressive fore-checking team. If they Wings can transition the puck quick up to their forwards they should be able to generate some really good chances.
Player to Fear
Shayne Gostisbehere – Wayne Simmonds has been a pain the Wings side for years now it seems, but the rookie defenseman has dynamic since he joined the team and is terrifying to watch when he has space to work.
Player to Feast on
The rest of the Flyers defense – It is a good thing Ghost Bear has been so good because the rest of the Flyers defense has been so meh. The Wings will likely still have to deal with a suddenly stingy Steve Mason in the net but they should be able to get plenty of rubber on him as the Flyers give up an average of 31 shots a game.
Thursday: At Boston
Three seasons ago it was Dallas, last season it was Pittsburgh. Games that ultimately propelled the Wings into the playoffs. This year it is game 81 at Boston. The Wings will come into the game no worse than a point behind the Bruins. By all rights the season defining game should have been the night before against the Flyers but the Bruins have slumped at the absolute worst time for them and have allowed the Wings to control their own fate.
Keys to the Game
Weather the Storm
Boston is a veteran team playing at home desperately trying to cling to their playoff hopes. We all know what that kind of team can look like when it is properly motivated. It is probably safe to assume having an opportunity to essentially be the team to end the Wings playoff streak as well as punch their own ticket is a lot of motivation. The Bruins are going to come out flying, hitting, skating, etc. Having just played the night before against a rough Philly team, the Wings are going to need to be able to absorb that initial push from Boston and allow the game to settle.
Be aggressive looking for the counter
As was mentioned with the Flyers, one of the best ways to neutralize an aggressive team is take advantage of that aggressiveness by pushing the puck quickly through the defensive zone and look to try and get behind the defense on the stretch pass.
Finish, finish, finish
Short and simple. There are not likely going to be a ton of quality scoring chances to be had by either team in this one so it is absolutely imperative that the Wings finish the ones that they get.
Player to Fear
Brad Marchand – He is an absolute pain in the ass to play against, and that was before he starting scoring goals at the rate he has been this season. They cannot allow Marchand to put his stamp on this game.
Player to Feast on
Defensemen - Same as it was with Philadelphia. The Bruins defense is beat up and petty meh. The Wings speed can and needs to give them problems all day long.
Saturday: At New York Rangers
Hopefully this one will not mean anything but an opportunity to give a couple guys some rest before the playoffs begin because the Rangers are clinging to a two point lead over the Islanders and are dealing with their own injury issues now. This could be a game where both teams have something to play for or neither team has anything to play for.
Keys to the Game
Uncrown the King
The Rangers are a pretty deep team all around but as it has been for several years now, as Henrik Lundquist goes so go the Rangers. The Wings need to find a way to get a couple past him without allowing the Rangers to pepper their own goalie as well.
Keep the special in Special Teams
The Wings PP has been hot as of late. The Rangers penalty kill has not. Unfortunately the same can be said with the roles reversed as well. The team who wins the special team battle this game is going to win the game.
Make this game as meaningless as possible
That is the best thing for the Wings and their fans. Win the back-to-back with Philly and Boston so they do not have to worry about having to get a point or two in the regular season finale. I just do not think this is a team that plays well when the pressure is turned up if they enter the last game without a playoff spot locked up the pressure is going to be at an extreme level.
Player to Fear
Henrik Lundquist – He is not called King Henrik for nothing. Three goals on 62 shots over the first two games. That is not the kind of numbers you want to see from the opposing goalie when you potentially are in a must win situation.
Player to Feast on
Keith Yandle – With McDonagh potentially out with an injury the Rangers defensemen are going to have to absorb his 23 minutes a game of ice time. Yandle is still dangerous offensively but his tendency to jump up into the play could become a detriment in a hurry. Speedy forwards like Larkin, AA, Nyquist, etc. should look to exploit this every time they can. They are going to need every opportunity they can get to put pucks behind Lundquist.