Sharks-Red Wings Preview
For a team that set an NHL record for consecutive home victories last season, the Detroit Red Wings' recent substandard play at Joe Louis Arena has been extremely uncharacteristic.
That may need to change if they plan on extending their 21-season playoff streak.
Detroit looks to get back on track Thursday night when it hosts the San Jose Sharks, who have had their share of struggles on the road.
The Red Wings won 23 consecutive home games Nov. 5-Feb. 19, 2012, setting a new league mark on their way to a 31-7-3 record in Detroit last season.
They haven't been nearly as good there in 2013, though, going 1-3-1 over the last five to drop to 10-7-3.
Detroit (19-15-5) fell 1-0 to visiting St. Louis on Sunday and has lost four of six overall, beginning with a 2-0 defeat at San Jose on March 28. It hasn't missed the playoffs since the 1989-90 season, but it currently sits in eighth place in the Western Conference.
"You always want to play well at home," center Valtteri Filppula told the team's official website. "Definitely would be a good start to get a home win and then go on the road and hopefully get some confidence."
The Red Wings begin a four-game trip Friday against Chicago before finishing up with three of their last four at home.
"It's been a tough month," defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. "Hopefully we can kind of reset everything and come back more energized because we're coming down to the wire here and it's going to be so tight all the way through."
The Sharks (20-12-7) have a little more breathing room in the playoff race sitting in fifth place, four points ahead of Detroit and one back of fourth-place Los Angeles.
They've lost two straight following a seven-game winning streak, though, falling 4-0 to Columbus on Tuesday to begin a four-game trip. San Jose is a league-best 14-1-5 at home, but it has struggled to a 6-11-2 road mark.
"We skated in sand and, even worse, we had our heads in the sand, too," said coach Todd McLellan, whose team has been shut out in two of its last three road games. "We had the intensity of an exhibition game - and it's April. That's sad."
The Sharks, who are 7-1-1 in the last nine regular-season meetings with the Red Wings, have a four-game homestand remaining before finishing with two contests on the road that could have implications for playoff seeding.
"We've been going good, but this is kind of a step back," captain Joe Thornton said. "We've got to tighten up, get better."
After posting a 1.41 goals-against average during the winning streak, Antti Niemi has allowed four non-shootout goals in each of the last two games. He's given Detroit fits, though, making 33 saves in a 2-1 shootout loss Feb. 28 and 27 in the last meeting.
Niemi is 4-1-1 with a 1.64 GAA in his last six starts versus the Red Wings.
"Getting a lot of traffic, a lot of pucks in there - I think that's the biggest key because we have to make it harder on him that way," Kronwall said.
Thursday will mark the first game back in Detroit for defenseman Brad Stuart, who signed with San Jose in the offseason after four-plus seasons with the Red Wings.