Only the Detroit Red Wings could lose four straight games and still have a commanding lead for the Presidents’ Trophy.
The Red Wings hope to avoid extending their slide and solve some of their recent defensive woes when they host the struggling Columbus Blue Jackets on Friday night.
Detroit (41-13-5) has lost as many games in the past week as in its previous 20 contests. The Red Wings, who haven’t dropped five in a row since Nov. 17-25, 2006, have been tagged for 15 goals of their league-best 130 goals allowed during their current skid.
“You always have the answers when you’re winning and the excuses when you’re losing,” Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios said, “but one thing’s for sure - we haven’t played well defensively.”
Still, Detroit has 87 points - 12 more than second-place Dallas in the Western Conference and 14 ahead of East leader Ottawa.
“We’ve put ourselves in a good situation where we don’t have to panic,” said Red Wings defenseman Brian Rafalski, who will miss Friday’s game with a groin injury. “We’ve built a good cushion that we can afford ourselves a little bit of leeway here. We don’t have to use it all, but it’s there.”
The Red Wings, though, allowed three goals in the first nine minutes of a 4-2 loss on Tuesday at Nashville. All-Star Chris Osgood was lifted after making one save and replaced by Jimmy Howard, who is with the team as 43-year-old Dominik Hasek is day-to-day with a hip injury.
Osgood is 0-3-0 with a 5.25 goals-against average during Detroit’s losing streak. Each of his last two home starts against Columbus have resulted in shootout losses.
While the Red Wings have the league’s top record in spite of their recent woes, there’s not nearly as much leeway for the Blue Jackets (26-24-9), who continue to seek the first playoff berth in franchise history. Columbus, though, has lost three straight and seven of its last eight.
On Wednesday, the Blue Jackets allowed four first-period goals in a 7-2 home loss to Chicago.
“This will take us one way or the other,” Columbus coach Ken Hitchcock said. “We’re either going to go up and grab this thing, or we’re going to go (making a sound like a balloon rapidly deflating).”
The Blue Jackets had earned at least a point in four straight games prior to Wednesday, going 1-0-3 over that stretch. They’ve also given up an average of 3.5 goals in their last eight games, but are just four points behind Colorado for the eighth and final West playoff spot.
“We can’t mope around about it,” left wing Fredrik Modin said of the Blue Jackets’ slump. “We’re just going to have to be professional about it and come back and make sure we get our game together because it’s now when we have to make a push.”
The Central Division rivals haven’t faced off since Nov. 24 when Columbus ended a four-game losing streak to Detroit with a 3-2 shootout win at home.
Including this matchup, the Red Wings and Blue Jackets will square off five times this season.