This week is a much more relaxed schedule than what the Columbus Blue Jackets have faced in the past few. They are coming off a long stretch where they played five games in seven days and then had a road trip out west, so so much downtime must feel weird to the Blue Jackets.
They have been resting since their 4-1 win over the Arizona Coyotes on Monday night at Nationwide Arena. They got a day off, and had two practice days to prepare for tonight when they head to Detroit to face off against the Red Wings on fun Friday night in the NHL.
Tonight will be Columbus’ penultimate trip to Detroit’s famed Joe Louis Arena, which will soon give way to the Little Caesars Arena as the new home of the Red Wings, and their NBA counterparts the Detroit Pistons, starting next fall. It’s shrine to hockey, a mecca for fans so this should be a special game for Columbus.
Detroit will be looking to improve their play on home ice, and tonight is a great time to start, as they’ll be starting a five-game homestand, which will be the longest of their season.
Detroit is over .500 with a 13-11-3 record, but they are 2-6-2 on home ice after kicking off the season 4-0 at the Joe. The Red Wings have been lagging in offense too since they’ve only garnered 19 goals in their past 10 home games. So they’ll need to score more to win.
“I wouldn’t say there’s big things missing,” said Detroit coach Jeff Blashill to media. “Obviously, that record says that there is, but really to me there’s just minimal, little things. We found a way to win a couple games on the road when they were tight, we found a way to lose a couple games at home when they were tight. We seem to be in a tight game every night.”
Detroit though has won their last two games on the road, a 4-3 win in OT over the New York Islanders on Sunday and 4-3 win in shootout over the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday. Can they score four goals at home though?
Coach John Tortarella’s Blue Jackets are one of the NHL’s best surprises this season with a 15-5-4 record, and have won four in row.
Tortorella says improved discipline has been a big reason for his team’s improvement.
“It has been a real change for our team, our discipline, not sitting in the box,” Tortorella told the Columbus Dispatch. “That’s been a huge improvement from last year as far as how many offensive-zone penalties we took. We were sloppy. That’s concentration on the night of the game, being disciplined with your detail.”
Columbus right now is third in the league in both goals per game (3.17) and goals-against per game (2.17). They also rank first on the power play (24.6 percent).
The Blue Jackets have a rookie defenseman, Zach Werenski, who has put in some good work, getting six goals and 17 points to lead rookie defensemen this year.
“They added a guy on defense (Werenski) who was great in the American League playoffs, now you got another impact player,” Blashill said. “It’s a team that we could see coming from a long way away, they were going to be a real good team this year.
“That said, there aren’t big differences between teams. It still comes down to little things and they found a way to be better than anybody else on the power play, they’re structurally sound. (Tortorella) is a really good coach and he’s got them playing good hockey.”
Werenski hails from the Detroit suburb of Grosse Pointe. He played at the University of Michigan and is a close friend and former Michigan teammate to Detroit’s star rookie, Dylan Larkin.
The Red Wings should get back two players from injury for this game. Speedy forward Andreas Athanasiou, who was out 12 games with a sprained knee, should return tonight, and more importantly, goaltender Jimmy Howard should be back between the pipes. He has been activated from the injury list after he was out for a week and a half with a groin injury.
But it’s still not clear if either Howard or Petr Mrazek will start in net tonight.
This game will be the first of three meetings this year between the two teams, who will play again at Joe Louis Arena on Feb. 7 for the last time, and then at Nationwide Arena on Feb. 11, before the regular season ends.
The Blue Jackets are going into the games in third place in the Metropolitan Division with a 15-5-4 record, holding 34 points. That’s the second-best win percentage in the NHL right now.
Noteworthy for bettors is that Columbus will be down to seven defensemen on its active roster after Dalton Prout was loaned to Cleveland in the AHL, on a conditioning assignment on Thursday. Defenseman Zach Werenski might not play due to a death in the family, but today coach John Tortorella said he is expected to play on Friday. Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start in goal.
With a strong and upcoming force like the Jackets who finally look like they are the real thing, we’ll take the road team in this one.