The Detroit Red Wings are locked in a tight race for home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs. Being the best road team in the NHL could help them achieve that goal.
The Red Wings try for their fourth straight win overall and fifth in a row on the road when they face the Atlanta Thrashers in the opener of a three-game trip Friday night.
Detroit (47-15-9) leads the league with 103 points, but is battling to hold off San Jose and Boston for the top overall spot. The Wings stayed hot Tuesday, defeating Philadelphia 3-2 at home and improving to 16-4-2 since a season-high five-game losing streak from Jan 17-31.
After playing its previous two games away from Joe Louis Arena, Detroit heads back out on the road, where it’s 21-10-5 for an NHL-high 47 points. The Red Wings have five road games remaining as they look to lock down the league’s best record.
Detroit’s 26-5-4 mark at Joe Louis is second to San Jose’s NHL-best 27-3-4 record at home.
“This game’s fair. If you do things right and do them right longer, you tend to win more often,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We made a mistake a couple times and they scored on their chances, but I thought it was fair. The team that stuck with it the longest got a win tonight.”
Detroit’s last visit to Atlanta resulted in a 7-6 loss Dec. 13, 2005, but the Wings are 8-2-0 all-time against the Thrashers (29-36-6). The Red Wings won the first meeting this season 5-3 on Oct. 24.
Pavel Datsyuk, fourth in the NHL with 87 points, has nine goals and 20 assists in the last 22 games. The All-Star center had a goal and an assist Tuesday to extend his point streak to six games, giving him three goals and seven assists over that span.
Datsyuk has three goals and six assists in six games against the Thrashers.
Friday’s game will be the first in Atlanta for Marian Hossa since being traded away last season. The star forward played nearly three seasons with the Thrashers from 2005-08, recording 108 goals and 140 assists in 222 games.
Hossa, dealt from the Thrashers to Pittsburgh last Feb. 26 before signing with the Red Wings in the offseason, had two goals and an assist in the Oct. 24 victory.
Detroit is playing a Thrashers team that has little chance of making the playoffs, as it sits 13th in the Eastern Conference, 17 points behind eighth-place Carolina. The Thrashers, however, had won a franchise-record six straight before losing 6-2 at Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
The Thrashers recorded two shutouts and outscored opponents 22-9 during their run. The last two wins during the streak came without star winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who missed the last three games with an unspecified upper body injury.
Kovalchuk, however, practiced Thursday and is expected to return Friday. Rookie defenseman Zach Bogosian also practiced, and he may be in the lineup as well after being knocked out of Tuesday’s loss on a hit by Matt Cooke.
Bogosian, taken third overall in the June draft, has five goals and seven assists in 36 games.