Getting center Henrik Zetterberg(notes) and right wing Danny Cleary(notes) back from injury might be just what the Detroit Red Wings need to make a run at a playoff spot. A visit to the Los Angeles Kings could help get them jump-started.
Zetterberg and Cleary are expected to return from shoulder injuries Thursday night when the Red Wings try to continue their dominance of the Kings.
Hampered by a slew of injuries, Detroit (21-15-6) is currently ninth in the Western Conference - five points behind Nashville and Los Angeles (25-15-3) for the last two playoff spots.
The Red Wings haven’t failed to qualify for the postseason since 1990, and have won eight consecutive Central Division titles. That run might be coming to an end, as they’re third in the division and trail first-place Chicago by 15 points.
Zetterberg, who has 10 goals and is second on the team with 32 points, has missed eight games, while Cleary has been sidelined for 12.
Detroit could have used them Tuesday, as it fell 4-1 at Anaheim.
“We weren’t prepared to play, for whatever reason,” said coach Mike Babcock, whose club had beaten Phoenix three nights earlier to open its five-game road trip. “It was our worst game in a while. We let ourselves down here. I don’t think you can even find out how good you can be unless you play as hard as you’re capable of playing, and we didn’t do that. Too many turnovers and poor execution, especially early.”
The Red Wings have a prime opportunity to bounce back when they visit Los Angeles. They’ve outscored the Kings 96-54 to win 21 of the last 23 meetings, including 10 of 11 at Staples Center.
Zetterberg has 11 goals and nine assists in 22 games against the Kings, including one of each in a 5-2 win at home Oct. 15.
Despite losing the first meeting of the season with Detroit, Los Angeles is significantly improved from the team that has been dominated in this series over the past seven years.
The Kings, who haven’t reached the playoffs in eight years, are trying to win four in a row for the fourth time this season as they open a season-high seven-game homestand.
They continued their strong play Monday with a 6-2 win over Pacific Division-leading San Jose. Six Los Angeles players scored to end the Sharks’ eight-game winning streak.
“It was a pretty big game,” said defenseman Drew Doughty(notes), who had a career-high four assists. “We were sitting in the eighth spot and if we lost this game we might have been out of the playoff spot. But we moved up instead. It was very important. We were really focused before the game and were determined to get a win.”
Doughty is enjoying a breakout season after accumulating six goals and 21 assists as a rookie in 2008-09. He’s already surpassed those marks with nine goals and 23 assists in 43 games, and was a surprise inclusion to Canada’s roster for next month’s Olympics in Vancouver.
“He didn’t make the Olympics for nothing,” said center Anze Kopitar(notes), whose goal against the Sharks was assisted by Doughty. “He’s showing out there. He’s making plays and playing with a lot of confidence and having a lot of fun.”
Doughty, who has six assists in the last three games, has failed to record a point in four career games against Detroit - all losses.