The Detroit Red Wings are starting to play better. Surprisingly, so are the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Blue Jackets have won a season-high three straight and have enjoyed success this season against the Red Wings heading into Saturday’s matchup in Columbus.
These Central Division rivals complete their season series this weekend with a home-and-home set, with Sunday’s rematch set for Joe Louis Arena.
The Red Wings (12-8-4) enter on a 5-1-1 roll that has seen them move into second place in the division behind Chicago as they seek a 22nd straight playoff berth.
“We’re 5-1-1 in the last seven and it feels like we haven’t moved at all,” center Cory Emmerton said. “One day we’re in fourth and the next day we’re in 10th, so every game is huge.”
No Western Conference team has fewer points than the 20 for Columbus (8-12-4), but the club has turned in its best hockey during this run. The Blue Jackets have played five straight games that have gone to overtime and look to cap a perfect four-game homestand after Matt Calvert’s game-winner in Thursday’s 2-1 victory over Vancouver.
Ten of Columbus’ last 11 games have been decided by one goal. The exception was a 5-3 loss at Phoenix on Feb. 16 in which the Coyotes scored into an empty net for the final tally.
“At the start of the year, we were in a lot of one-goal losses,” Calvert said. “It didn’t go our way and you could blame it on bounces but at the end of the night, you’ve just got to keep on going.”
The Blue Jackets have won twice and lost in a shootout in their three meetings with the Red Wings this season.
“Our next two games are against a team that has five out of six points against us,” Detroit coach Mike Babcock said. “They’ve got an overtime loss against us and they beat us twice. Columbus won again (Thursday) so we’re going to have our hands full, and we’ve got to get prepared.”
The Red Wings have yielded more than two goals just once in their last seven games. Jimmy Howard is 4-1-1 with a 1.15 goals-against average in six starts in that span, making 22 saves Thursday for his second shutout of the season in a 3-0 victory over Edmonton.
“I think we’re playing really well as a team right now. We’re doing a lot of great things,” said Howard, who has a 3.25 GAA in three starts against Columbus this season. “When you work hard and you pay attention to detail, good things happen.”
Detroit is 0 for 16 on the power play against Columbus this season, 0 for 33 on the road and 0 for 10 in its last five games. The Blue Jackets have killed off all 18 penalties in their last eight contests.
Columbus has four skaters tied for the team lead with three points against Detroit this season, but two won’t be available. James Wisniewski is out with a broken foot while Derek Dorsett sustained a broken clavicle Thursday and will likely be lost for the season.
Detroit’s top four goal scorers are in the midst of droughts. Damien Brunner, Henrik Zetterberg and Daniel Cleary haven’t scored in five consecutive games, and Pavel Datsyuk has gone eight straight without a goal.
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