Detroit's Next 12 Games Present Golden Opportunity
The Red Wings currently sit 3 points behind division and conference leader Chicago with two games in hand,1 point behind St. Louis with equal games played and 3 points ahead of Nashville. They are trying to improve on a middling road record (11-13-0) while maintaining a league best home record (17-2-1). It is highly unlikely any of the top 4 teams in the Central will stop challenging for the division title barring a rash of injuries.
Detroit's performance over the next 12 games has the potential to help them overtake their division rivals, give them a small cushion in the standings, gain ground in the fight for home advantage throughout the playoffs and reestablish their road game. Their performance could also keep them mired in the Central gridlock, be a continuation of their road woes and expose a tendency to underperform against weaker foes.
The next 12 games consist of
Seven Away Games: Dallas, Phoenix (2), Montreal, Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton
Five Home Games: Buffalo, St. Louis, Columbus, Edmonton, Anaheim
Only three of these teams are currently in playoff spots (St. Louis, Dallas, Vancouver). As of today Dallas, Phoenix, Columbus, Anaheim and Edmonton are the bottom 5 in the West. The are 24 potential points to be gained over this span and Detroit shouldn't get less than 17 (8-3-1). A win in Vancouver could possibly help in a close race for top-3 seeding at the end of the season. With only one road game against a team in a playoff spot, the Wings should use this stretch to tack on more road wins. It's hard to be a playoff success without strong road performances.
This 12 game span is even more key because the 7 games after will be against a far tougher group of opponents (Philadelphia, Dallas, Vancouver, Chicago, Nashville, San Jose, Colorado). The bright side is that all of those matchups are at home except the game against Chicago.
In the same 12 game span Chicago faces a difficult lineup:
Nine Road Games: Nashville (2), Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Colorado, San Jose, Phoenix, NY Rangers
Three Home Games: Buffalo, Florida, Nashville
Only 4 of these squads are not currently in a playoff spot.
St. Louis has an easier 12 game stretch than Chicago but not as easy as Detroit's.
Five Road Games: Detroit, Nashville, Ottawa, New Jersey, Columbus
Seven Home Games: Dallas, Edmonton, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, Colorado San Jose
Seven of these teams sit in playoffs spots currently.
The Wings have by far the easiest schedule over the next 12 games and if Chicago and/or St. Louis struggles over their stretch, Detroit could get a 6-10 point lead over the Blackhawks and Blues by mid-February. Another benefit of this weak stretch would be the possibility for Babcock to rest Howard, Bertuzzi and Holmstrom a couple times to keep them fresh for the home stretch of the season.