Time: 7:30pm ET
Place: Little Caesars Arena, Detroit MI
Radio: 97.1 FM The Ticket, 1270 AM
Twelve games to go. Not too long ago as the calendar moved from March into April Red Wings fans could look forward to the beginning of the “real season” and the hopes of a long playoff run/Cup victory. Now we have the moral victories of developing younger players to look forward to along with the draft lottery and the prospects of a top three pick. The Red Wings enter tonight’s game with the second worst record in the league, only six points clear of last. For those on Team Tank the only four of those last twelve games are against teams currently not in a playoff spot and only one (March 29th against New Jersey) is against a team within 10 points of the Red Wings in the standings. This could get quite ugly the last few weeks. It all starts tonight with the division/conference/league/galaxy/universe leading Tampa Bay Lightning coming into Little Caesars Arena for the last meeting between the once burgeoning rivals. The last time they meet the Red Wings were coming off of a 3-2 Shootout win over the New York Rangers and put up a spirited effort against the Lightning before eventually succumbing to the odds-on Cup favorites 3-2 in Tampa Bay.
There is not much that needs to be said about Tampa that is not already known by most of the league. Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point lead a forward group that is so talented and so deep that ten of the twelve forwards they ice on most nights have double digit goals. Led by minute munchers Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh, their defensemen are so adept at moving the puck and helping to create offense that six of the eight on the roster have double digit assists. For comparison the Red Wings have eight forwards on their roster with over ten helpers. In goal Andrei Vasilevskiy is putting in a Vezina caliber season with a .931 save percentage over 44 games. While Goals Against Average is not the best indicator of how a goalie is playing, when a goalie is putting up a 2.23 GAA in a season where scoring is considered up throughout the league (except in Detroit it seems) that is still pretty dang impressive.
For the Red Wings it is basically more of the same at this point. Dylan Larkin is still dealing with the neck/back issue that has kept him out of the last three games and will likely keep him out beyond just tonight as well. On a positive note, the Wings did sign a couple highly touted college free agents (read about there here if you missed it) and announced that both will play with the Wings before the season is over. No words yet on when we can expect to see Ryan Kuffner or Taro Hirose make their NHL debut but with Larkin out and the Wings in need of some kind of spark there is no time like the present, eh?
The Red Wings have not beaten the Lightning since Phil Esposito was their GM. Ok, so it has not been quite that long, but it sure feels like it. In the long-term losses are probably more beneficial to the Wings continued rebuild but for tonight I do not care. Tampa Bay is in the running to break the 1995-96 Red Wings record for wins in a season and I cannot endorse the Red Wings aiding them anymore in that endeavor. I want a win tonight, as improbable as that seems.