The Detroit Red Wings know as a collective group that once the Olympic break is over they’ll be playing playoff hockey until the end of the regular season.
When the Wings resume play on Feb. 26 in Montreal, they’ll occupy the last of two wild card spots in the Eastern Conference, with five teams breathing down their necks.
“Our playoffs basically start when we come back after the break,” Henrik Zetterberg said. “That’s the kind of hockey you want to play.”
Detroit has 64 points 58 games into the season. Columbus, Ottawa and Washington are all a point back, while Carolina and New Jersey are both three points behind.
“I’d like to be in first place overall, but we’re not,” Wings coach Mike Babcock said. “I think we’ve done a lot of good things. I think we’re a way better team than we were. We’re way quicker. We skate. Our young kids are good players. We need a few more of our veterans to be better than they’ve been and we’ll be fine.”
This season is shaping up to be very similar to last year, when the Wings basically had to win their final four games of the regular season to guarantee them their 22nd consecutive trip to the postseason.
They wound up winning their final four games of the regular season to head into the playoffs as the seventh seed in the Western Conference and went 12-6-3 over the final 21 games.
“I wouldn’t say we were that comfortable last year,” Zetterberg said. “We’ve probably got to pull something similar this year.”
Detroit is also six points out of creeping into the third seed in the Atlantic Division.
Injuries to many of their star players – Pavel Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Jonathan Ericsson, Daniel Alfredsson, Stephen Weiss and Johan Franzen – have been the norm this season, as the Wings rank third in the league in man games lost with 248 according to mangameslost.com.
“I think it’s hard to judge our team this year because there have been so many injuries and guys in and out, but overall we’re right in the mix,” Alfredsson said. “We know going forward hopefully we can be healthy and if we are we feel we’re a pretty consistent team that’s going to give ourselves chances to win every night. It’s going to be a dogfight until the end. I think the break hopefully will help us to be healthy going forward.”
Just two players – Kyle Quincey and Drew Miller – have played every regular season game thus far.
Major contributions have come from Detroit’s younger players –Gustav Nyquist, Tomas Tatar, Tomas Jurco, Riley Sheahan and Luke Glendening.
“It’s encouraging to see these young guys that really have taken steps in their development, that’s made us a faster team and a better team,” Niklas Kronwall said.
Nyquist and Tatar are tied for fifth on the team in scoring with 24 points each.
“I think we feel pretty good about ourselves,” Ericsson said. “I think we’re playing a lot faster than we were at the beginning of the season. I think we’re a faster team and creating more. But on the other hand, we’re not as effective in scoring goals but we’re getting more shots and more quality shots.”
The Wings, who are 57-19-7-6 after Olympic breaks from 1998 to 2010, rank 19th in goals scored with 147, while allowing 155, which ranked 15th.