The Detroit Red Wings have thus far shown themselves to be one of the most improved teams in the NHL, but a major test is forthcoming.
After playing five straight games at home, the Red Wings hope to maintain their status as a playoff contender after a string of road games coming up, starting with Sunday’s tilt at Columbus.
The game against the Blue Jackets will start a four-game road trip and a stretch where the Red Wings will play nine of their next 12 games away from home.
The Red Wings enter fourth in the Atlantic Division standings after losing the last three of the five-game homestand.
Detroit has just two regulation losses since Nov. 12, but one of them was on Saturday night when it lost at home to the Vegas Golden Knights, 4-1.
“It hurts, but we’ve got to switch focus and be ready to go (Sunday) night,” said Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin, who leads the team in points with 26 (nine goals, 17 assists).
“It’s a back-to-back. We’ve been good on back-to-backs this year. We need to come out and play a solid road game.”
Columbus returns home after playing one of its best games of the year on Friday, when it earned a 4-1 win at Winnipeg.
After an awful start that saw the Blue Jackets lose nine of their first 12 games, Columbus has won five times since Nov. 10.
Despite the surge, Columbus is still at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings.
One reason for the recent success has been Columbus’ schedule, as it has been playing more home games.
The Blue Jackets are in a stretch where they are playing 11 of 14 games at home.
Leading the way for Columbus has been forward Johnny Gaudreau, who signed a seven-year, $68 million free agent deal with the Blue Jackets in the offseason.
Of late, Gaudreau has validated the contract, accumulating 10 points in his last five games despite being slowed by an illness.
“He’s very consistent and he hasn’t been feeling his best, as we know,” Columbus head coach Brad Larsen said.
“But he’s come as advertised. He plays at a pace that a lot of guys can’t. He can execute plays a lot of guys can’t do either. I think as he starts to produce more and he builds more confidence, he can be lethal for us.”
While Gaudreau leads Columbus in points with 25 (eight goals, 17 assists), Boone Jenner leads the Blue Jackets in goals with nine.
Each team has struggled offensively to start the season.
Detroit enters 19th in the league with 72 goals scored, while Columbus is 27th with 64 goals.
This will be the second meeting of the season between the teams.
Detroit won 6-1 at Columbus on Nov. 19. The Red Wings scored three unanswered goals in the second period and two unanswered in the third after the game was tied 1-1.
The teams will next meet on Jan. 14 in Detroit.
–Field Level Media