Already in the midst of a December that has seen them play 6 of 9 games away from home, the Detroit Red Wings’ true test will come during their final 4 games of the year. With just 2 Western Canadian stops left (Vancouver & Calgary) before this difficult 4 game post-Christmas struggle, the Red Wings are about to face 3 divisional opponents in 4 important match ups, over 6 December nights.
The first of those nights, Dec. 26, sees the Red Wings visiting Nashville to take on the Predators for the 3rd time this season. After a commanding 4-1 victory in the first battle, Detroit squandered a 3-1 lead to lose 4-3 in their last meeting with the Preds, who were the recipients of some gracious bounces late in the game. The Predators, who are 5-1 in their last 6, lately have found ways to win games they have no business winning, but, as Michael Finazzo points out, the Predators are far from an unbeatable team.
Just one night later the St. Louis Blues will meet the Wings at Joe Louis Arena for their 3rd match up of the season as well. The Blues, who have come away victorious in both contests this season by just a goal, sit 1 point behind the Red Wings in the standings. Under the coaching of Ken Hitchcock the Blues have been surging, and over their last 10 games they’re 7-1-2. As the Blues have risen seemingly so has the once dormant rivalry between the 2 squads, meaning this will surely be a game you wont want to miss.
After a short 2 day break, Detroit will face likely the most daunting of their division rivals, the Chicago Blackhawks. The Hawks, who are 5-1 over their last 6 (like Nashville), currently sit atop the league with 46 points, and have gone an impressive 7-2-1 over their last 10 games. This will be Detroit’s first of 6 meetings with Chicago this season, a season series that always wields exciting high-intensity games.
The next evening, on the final day of December, the Red Wings will return home to once again take on the Blues, in what will either be an attempt to even the season series at 2 games apiece, or an effort to avoid falling to 0-4 against St. Louis this season.
In the league’s current format, division winners are seated 1, 2, and 3 in the conference, coveted positions come playoff time. In addition to this, each team faces each other in its division 6 times during the season. These 2 factors make playing well in division match ups crucial to a team’s success. It also makes the games against these teams even more meaningful, and thus more heated as well.
With a possible 36 points available in the 18 games Detroit plays against these 3 teams this season, not only is the acquiring of points so necessary, but the ability to keep up to 12 points from each of Chicago, Nashville, and St. Louis is crucial to Detroit’s position in the standings.
At 1-3-0 this season against these 3 teams (and 1-1 against the lowly Columbus Blue Jackets), the Red Wings must improve their play against division opponents. With competition so tight in the Central Division, each and every point becomes that much more valuable. Wins in each of the 4 games in question would serve to distance Detroit from St. Louis and Nashville while pulling them closer, or perhaps even ahead of, Chicago. A possible 8 points at stake for Detroit, they’ll need at least 6 to call this a successful month’s end.
After this 4 games test we should have an accurate grade for just how good of a team Detroit is this season. The Red Wings will certainly have no trouble finding motivation for this difficult stretch, and their home ice prowess should help them in their 2 contests with St. Louis, but rest assured, these games will carry the weight and intensity of playoff hockey, as they should.