The Detroit Red Wings begin a set of back-to-back road games with a match-up against the Carolina Hurricanes this evening (7:00 PM EST on FSD/FS Carolinas/97.1 FM), and the Red Wings will be looking to close the gap upon a team that they trail by 8 points in the Wild Card standings.
Carolina’s earned 3 straight wins and has won 4 of their past 6 games, and they’ve scored 10 goals over the course of their 3-game winning streak.
During Thursday’s win over Montreal, goaltender Cam Ward stole the show, as the Associated Press’s Canes-Habs recap noted:
Ward stopped 27 shots in his second shutout of the season, and the Carolina Hurricanes beat Montreal 2-0 on Thursday night.
Brett Pesce and Brock McGinn scored to help the Hurricanes win their third straight, sweep the season series from Montreal and keep themselves in the thick of the Eastern Conference playoff race. Carolina entered two points out of a playoff spot and has opened an eight-game homestand with consecutive victories.
“It’s crunch time. All you’ve got to do is look at the standings, and we’ve kind of preached that this is our playoffs,” Ward said. “We’ve got a lot of games here at home, you want to kind of build some momentum, get some fans into the building and reward them with some wins.”
McGinn made it a two-goal game with 5:09 remaining, taking a smooth pass from Justin Williams and slipping the puck past Price.
That gave Ward some breathing room, and he finished with the 27th shutout of his 13-year career — but his first in 36 games against the Canadiens while improving his lifetime record against them to 20-12-4. He previously blanked defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh 4-0 on Jan. 4.
“The best player on the ice, by far,” Pesce said.
The Canes’ players echoed their remarks about Ward while speaking with NHL.com’s Kurt Dusterberg…
“I think Cam masked a lot of our shortcomings tonight,” Williams said. “They had a couple chances that maybe didn’t look that tough on TV, but they were tough, with tips and traffic. He was incredible for us. He’s a guy we certainly have a lot of faith in.”
And Dusterberg issued a narrative recap:
Pesce’s first goal of the season gave the Hurricanes a 1-0 lead at 2:43 of the second period. He drifted back to the blue line and one-timed a pass from Elias Lindholm inside the far post. Marcus Kruger had the second assist.
“Obviously, I’m thankful it went in,” said Pesce, who has seven goals in 194 NHL games. “It’s been in the back of my mind, for sure, especially since the middle of the season. It was great traffic and we needed a push.”
Justin Williams set up McGinn at 14:51 of the third for a 2-0 lead. Williams retrieved the puck behind the net and fed a backhand to McGinn in the slot.
The Hurricanes were stingy with scoring chances through two periods, clogging the neutral zone and limiting second chances, but Ward was called on for big saves in the third period. He stopped Nicolas Deslauriers at the net at 8:44 before making a glove save on a heavy slap shot from Jeff Petry at 13:25.
As CarolinaHurricanes.com’s Michael Smith notes, Carolina finds itself on the cusp of a playoff spot, but outside the cut:
The Hurricanes have now won three straight games – two straight to begin this crucial eight-game homestand – and continue to close in on an Eastern Conference wild card spot. At 24-19-8 with 56 points, the Hurricanes are just on the outside of the cut line with another Eastern Conference match-up on deck for Friday.
“It’s fun to be able to compete and know that there is something on the line. We’re trying to make it. It’s been long overdue. We know that. But we have the team in this locker room, we believe, to get us over the hump and get us in there,” Ward said. “It’s not going to be easy, just like tonight. Montreal, I thought, played pretty well. You’re going to find every game is going to be difficult and tight down the stretch. I think we’ve learned through our experiences early in the year how to handle leads.”
The Hurricanes host the Detroit Red Wings on the tail end of their 10th back-to-back set of the season on Friday night.
“It’s crunch time. All you have to do is look at the standings. We’ve preached that this is our playoffs,” Ward said. “We’ve got a lot of games here at home. You want to build some momentum and get some fans into the building and reward them with some wins.”
The Raleigh News&Observer’s Chip Alexander reports that it’s possible the Cam Ward will start against the Wings, too:
Canes coach Bill Peters would not commit to starting Ward again Friday when the Canes host the Detroit Red Wings in the third game of the eight-game homestand. But it could be Ward again. And another tight game.
“These are big games that will help us down the stretch, knowing we can win close games, and we’ve done it quite a few different ways lately,” Williams said.
In the multimedia department, NHL.com posted a 4:18 highlight clip from the game…
— Carolina Hurricanes (@NHLCanes) February 1, 2018
The Associated Press’s game preview will serve as our pivot point between the Hurricanes and Red Wings‘ perspectives:
“A lot of guys found a way to contribute,” Hurricanes coach Bill Peters said, referring to a 2-0 victory Thursday night against the Montreal Canadiens — Carolina’s third straight. “When we needed them, one of them was there.”
Pesce said his lack of goals had been weighing on him to some degree across the past month. He said it’s mostly because he sees that most other players on the team have contributed on the scoresheet.
“It has been in the back of my mind, for sure,” Pesce said.
It’s becoming a critical time for many teams, Red Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. He said his team realizes there’s no time for lapses.
“You go through the month of January, there’s a lot of starts and stops,” Blashill said. “I think our guys are recognizing we’re on the homestretch. It’s a long year, sometimes you can let weeks and days slip by you and our guys are recognizing that you can’t.”
This will be Carolina’s third contest in a season-long eight-game homestand.
Detroit, which went 2-1-0 in January road contests, will play six of its next eight games on the road, including Saturday night at Florida.
Carolina won 3-1 on Jan. 20 at Detroit. The teams meet again Feb. 24 in Detroit.
Detroit’s players and coach spent most of Thursday’s practice talking about shooting more often as a means by which to facilitate offense, as noted by the Free Press’s Helene St. James:
The Wings head into Carolina on Friday freshly reminded they can put the puck on net if the mindset is there. The Wings targeted the net a season-high 44 times against San Jose on Wednesday, and while it only resulted in one regulation goal, it led to offensive-zone time and limited the Sharks’ quality chances.
“Usually when you shoot the puck, you usually get it back again and it gives you extended zone time and chaos for the team that is defending,” Frans Nielsen said after Thursday’s practice. “It’s always tough when you face a lot of shots and you have to look for the puck where it is going. We ended up with 40 shots and I don’t think we’ve done that a lot this year. So that shooting mentality is huge for us going forward.“If we keep generating 30-plus shots a game, I think we are going to score a lot more goals than we have been doing. That way you can trust each other, too — you know if a guy has the puck on the wall, you know you can go to the net because you know there is a good chance it’s coming there.”The Wings have averaged 29.9 shots per game, ranking in the bottom five of the NHL. (Though there’s not much separation — top-ranked Florida averages 34.6, the Washington Capitals rank 31st at 28.9.) But given the Wings’ issues with scoring — their 2.53 goals-per-game average is third-worst in the league — getting more shots on net is a sensible focus provided it goes hand-in-hand with something else: Getting bodies to the net.
“It’s something we talked about it,” said Blashill, of the need to get more shots on net. “It doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy to do every night but we have to keep working toward it. Our guys hopefully recognize one way to more offense, and it led to more chances, is dirty goals and dirty goals are produced by getting pucks to the net and creating chaos.”
Another part of the 44 shots that Blashill liked is the fact 19 of those 44 shots were credited to Red Wings’ defensemen. Precious little offense has originated from the defense, other than Mike Green. So to see defensemen get the puck on net and igniting scoring opportunities, was a welcome sight.“That’s an area that we need more offense from, our back end,” Blashill said. “An easy thing to do it is to have a shooting mentality.”
What Blashill has been seeing — and has been a Red Wings’ issue for the last several seasons — is a pass-first mentality, with the Red Wings passing on shots and making passes to create a supposedly even better scoring opportunity that might not exist.
“We have a lot of guys on this team that have a natural tendency to make a play,” Blashill said. “We just have to get through to ourselves that we have to have a shot mentality. It doesn’t mean you can’t make a play when is a play is there to be made. But you have to have a shooting mentality and it’s something we’re going to harp on.”
The Red Wings’ players told DetroitRedWings.com’s Arthur J. Regner that Wednesday’s win gives the Wings something of a template going forward:
“We played faster. I think our ‘D’ did a good job of getting shots through,” center Dylan Larkin (four shots) said. “We had a lot of ‘O’ zone time, that’s something we have to do every night. It’s what we’ve got to do. We have to win 2-1 and 3-1 and we can’t have nights where we think we’re just going to walk in and not have to battle. So, we did that; we knew we were going to have to battle. It was in a shootout, but it was still two points. We have to get as many points any way we can. That’s a good start.
You could sense the Wings were upbeat after Thursday’s practice at the BELFOR Training Center. Beating San Jose was only one victory, but sometimes it’s the way you win that can propel a team to roll off several wins in a row.
“Something’s got to give for us, right? We played extremely well, for the entire game and the shootout,” goalie Jimmy Howard said. “Hopefully with that work ethic that we had last night, it carries over into tomorrow night (Friday at Carolina) and hopefully we’re able to get a couple more.”
Before practice on Tuesday, the Wings held a meeting where they agreed they have to win now or their season could become meaningless in a short period of time.
“There is a sense of urgency, absolutely,” Larkin said. “It’s something in the group we have in here; guys have been there, guys that know what it takes and there’s guys that haven’t been there and we’re learning what it takes and the learning has to stop and we just have to do it. That’s the good news, we have 33 games left, we’ve got to make sure we’re ready to go every night.”
In the multimedia department, the Red Wings Tweeted out two videos of Blashill and Tomas Tatar’s remarks…
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 1, 2018
— Detroit Red Wings (@DetroitRedWings) February 1, 2018
And the Free Press’s Helene St. James posted a clip of Frans Nielsen, Gustav Nyquist and coach Blashill addressed the Wings’ “shooting mentality”:
Red Wings notebooks and also of Red Wings-related note: Hockeybuzz’s Bob Duff discussed the fact that Petr Mrazek is the “hot hand” in goal at present:
“I talked to both goalies coming out of the (NHL All-Star) break and if one guy gets hot, he’s going to play and I think both guys are very, very, very capable of it,” Blashill said. “We need elite goaltending. That’s just what the league is. If you don’t get elite goaltending, it’s hard to win on a regular basis. We certainly need elite goaltending and I think both guys can give it to us.”
At the moment, Mrazek is the goalie who is delivering those goods. He’s allowed just four goals in his past four starts, going 3-0-1 in those games with two shutouts, an 0.97 goals-against average and .968 save percentage.
“When you get to play, when you play lots of minutes, you get the confidence, the swagger back, and try to build from that,” Mrazek said. “I’m trying to be confident. I’m trying to stop every puck I can.”