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Game Preview: Penguins vs. Red Wings

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The Pittsburgh Penguins take to the road and meet with a slumping – and just plain bad – Detroit team.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Detroit Red Wings Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Basics

Who: Pittsburgh Penguins (43-27-6) @ Detroit Red Wings (27-38-11)

When: 7:30 PM ET

SB Nation Friends: Winging it in Motown

How to Watch: Local TV (AT&T Sports, Fox Sports Detroit)

Season history: This is the third and final Pens/Wings game of the season. The first two games were both decided by identical 4-1 scores, with each team claiming a victory at home. First Detroit won on 12/31 in Pittsburgh’s first ever visit to Little Caesers Arena, then the Pens took the second matchup in PA on 1/13.

Recent form: The Red Wings have, um, not been very good of late (to put it nicely), going just 1-9-0 in their last 10 including a 4-2 loss last night in Montreal. They are mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. Pittsburgh is coming off an exciting 5-4 OT win over Philly on Sunday.

The road ahead: The Pens leave Detroit and head east to Newark for a Thursday night matchup against the Devils before returning back to Pittsburgh where they will host Montreal on Saturday evening.

First, the good guys

It’s all systems go for the Penguins who practiced yesterday in the ‘Burgh before jetting off to Detroit. Lines remain the same, with Zach Aston-Reese growing ever closer to a return to the lineup.

In fact, the team flight was slightly delayed, so the Captain got a chance post-practice to get a little video gaming in before leaving, even if Kris Letang makes fun of him for it.

No official starting goalie has been named as of press time, but it is almost certainly going to be Matt Murray in net for the Penguins tonight.

Opposition Focus

It still is weird to see perennial playoff team (and championship contender) Detroit in this position. The Red Wings are down and out, as the lines below show little hope for the future. Worse yet, they already have $58.3 million on the salary cap next year for 16 players, and it generally isn’t the good kind of money on the books – we have guys deep in their 30’s like Ericsson and Kronwall combining to eat $9.0 million. Then there’s $15.1 million attributed to “meh” level forwards in Helm, Nielson, Abdelkader, and Glendening. Add in a seven figure Stephen Weiss buyout (a player who hasn’t played since 2015) and the ghost of Johan Franzen’s almost $4 million LTIR contract for still two more seasons after this one, and it’s clear that Ken Holland has gotten the once proud Red Wings team into one of the ugliest financial situations in the entire league right now. Several of those mistakes will linger for years to come as well.

Still the tide will turn after enduring these lean years as DRW has two picks in the first, second, and third rounds at this year’s draft. They, along with all the other lottery teams, are hoping against hope that they are awarded the #1 pick and get super-prospect Rasmus Dahlin in their organization for a quick talent add. As a Swedish defenseman, Dahlin will always be compared to Niklas Lidstrom, so it would be appropriately fitting if he did end up in Detroit.

In the current, I guess look out for Anthony Mantha. The 23-year-old leads the team in goals (23) and has set career highs for himself in goals, assists (20), and points (43). Mantha, though, has gone ice cold like the rest of his teammates and has no goals and two assists in his last 10 games.

Gustav Nyquist is probably in the best form, he factored into both Detroit goals last night with one goal and one assist.

Expected lines

Tyler Bertuzzi — Henrik Zetterberg — Gustav Nyquist

Darren Helm — Dylan Larkin — Anthony Mantha

Andreas Athanasiou — Frans Nielsen — Justin Abdelkader

Martin Frk — Luke Glendening — Evgeny Svechnikov

Jonathan Ericsson — Trevor Daley

Danny DeKeyser — Nick Jensen

Niklas Kronwall — Joe Hicketts

Jimmy Howard

Jared Coreau

— Hicketts is a recent call-up and at 21-years-old one of the few young players and potential bright spots of the future. He already made his NHL debut in January, but has only played that one game and tonight will be game #2 of his career.

— Coreau played last night in Montreal so defacto starting goalie Jimmy Howard is expected to play tonight.

— This lineup is about as bad and non-threatening as you’re going to see in the NHL in 2018. Tomas Tatar was traded for draft picks and Mike Green (neck surgery) is out for the season and Petr Mrazek was dealt to Philly. With those vets (and three of the better/best players on the team) gone, it’s been struggle city in Motown since the trade deadline.

— Former Penguin Trevor Daley has nine goals and six assists in his first season in Detroit. His 20:39 time on ice per game is second highest among defensemen behind Green, and his 46.8% Corsi For is the worst among regular defensemen. All in all, it hasn’t really been a terrible season for Daley, who’s doing what he did in Pittsburgh — eating a bunch of minutes, getting pinned in a lot, yet somehow still treading water. It’s still remains a mystery why a rebuilding team gives a declining vet a three-year contract worth $3.1 million per season (and a full no trade clause to boot), but just add that to the questionable-to-bad decisions made by management to have Daley (who will be 35-years-old before start of next season) around for two more years.

Final Word

The Red Wings win if...well, this would be tough. The Red Wings are in full on “get this season over with as quick as possible” mode and haven’t been winning much at all. Still, maybe if Pittsburgh slacks off big time and puts in a 50% effort night and Detroit jumps up early, they will show some pride, play hard, and try to keep an early lead if they can get it.

The Penguins win if...pretty simply, they show up with 80%+ effort, attention to detail, and focus. This should be as easy as a two-point in the standings night as you will ever see in a parity based league. The Pens have superior talent at every position, and they have reason to be motivated to win. Detroit has none of that, and they are on the back-end of a back-to-back. Quite simply, this is a game Pittsburgh needs to have for playoff positioning, and if they play with that in mind, they should get it.