Small successes open the door to bigger challenges for the Detroit Red Wings. That’s been the National Hockey League way for a long time.
Detroit’s completion of the California Sweep for the first time since 2008 has made the Red Wings a more viable playoff candidate. The New Jersey Devils, with 44 points, hold the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Washington Capitals and Red Wings also have 44 points, but Devils have a tie-breaker advantage over Washington. The Devils have two games in hand over Detroit.
“We just have to build on it, keep working, keep grinding,” Detroit goaltender Alex Lyon said. “It’s going to be a difficult January, up until the break, so we just got to stay focused and engaged.”
But getting back into the postseason hunting party is the best the Red Wings could have hoped for coming out of the California trip. But that success creates another challenge: Can they sustain that level of play?
That challenge is made more difficult by the fact that the Red Wings will face a gauntlet of quality teams the rest of January. Detroit 10 has games remaining this month, and eight of those games are against teams currently in a playoff spot. The only two opponents who aren’t in a playoff spot are the Tampa Bay Lightning (Jan. 21) and Ottawa Senators (Jan. 31).
And Detroit fans know that the Senators are a difficult match-up for the Red Wings. The Senators beat them 5-1 at Little Caesars Arena one month ago. The Red Wings are 1-1-1 against them this season. Detroit beat Tampa Bay in the second game of the season. But the Lightning boast the winning culture that GM Steve Yzerman is trying to build in Detroit.
The Red Wings’ next game is against the Edmonton Oilers (20-15-1) who come to Detroit with a seven-game winning streak. The Connor McDavid-led Oilers are now playing like the team everyone thought they would be this season. The Los Angeles Kings (20-10-6) will be in LCA on Saturday looking to avenge their shootout loss in LA.
Playing at Home Should Help
On Saturday, the Red Wings launch a three-game road trip against the Toronto Maple Leafs (20-10-7). They play the Florida Panthers (25-12-2) on Jan. 17 and the Carolina Hurricanes (22-13-5) on Jan. 19.
Then, it’s back home for five consecutive home games to end the month. Detroit starts with the Lightning, then play the Dallas (22-11-5) on Jan. 23, followed by the Philadelphia Flyers (20-13-6) on Jan. 25, the Vegas Golden Knights (23-12-5) and Senators.
The Red Wings have already lost to the Panthers, Maple Leafs, Flyers, Stars and Hurricanes this season. This January schedule will say plenty about Detroit’s playoff chances. They will be looking for Lyon to stay consistent and for the team to play tighter defensively.
“We just want to keep building the right way,” Detroit coach Derek Lalonde said. “We’re still working out some details in our game.”