Programming note: Sharks-Red Wings coverage gets underway today at 4 p.m. with Sharks Pregame Live on Comcast SportsNet California
DETROIT – It’s a battle of two banged up teams when the Sharks visit the Red Wings on Monday night at Joe Louis Arena.
Already without integral defenseman Dan Boyle, the Sharks have lost another player in forward Brent Burns, when it was learned the big winger was hit in the mouth on Saturday against Calgary. Burns won’t play against the Red Wings, although Todd McLellan suggested he could be back later on the road trip. Freddie Hamilton will make his NHL debut in Burns’ place.
Detroit will be without two rearguards in Niklas Kronwall, who has a mild concussion, and Jonathan Ericsson, whose wife went into labor on Sunday night. Rookie Xavier Ouellet will make his NHL debut for the Red Wings.
Could the offensively deep Sharks take advantage of the Wings’ beat up blue line?
“They still have [Henrik] Zetterberg and [Pavel] Datsyuk, and if they’re playing in our end, we don’t have to worry about their D,” McLellan said. “They play as a team, they are well coached, they are going to be well prepared. … They don’t seem to miss a beat when players leave.
“Both teams are beat up a little bit. It will still be a good game.”
In the home locker room, Red Wings coach Mike Babcock was just as complimentary of the Sharks.
Babcock said: “We have a real good team in here that plays right, they’ve got a north-south game going, they play heavy, they’ve got three centers as good as anybody in the league, so it’s a good test for our young D. Should be fun.”
Detroit enters the game coming off of a 5-2 loss in Phoenix, in which goalie Mike Smith made headlines for scoring a goal in the final second. That defeat ended a four-game winning streak for the Red Wings, who still sit atop the Atlantic Division with 12 points, tied with Toronto.
It’s probably safe to assume they’ll be a bit ornery after the resounding defeat and embarrassing Smith highlight.
“They’ll be upset. Coming home, this is a tough building to play in,” Logan Couture said. “We’ve had a lot of experience playing in this building for a lot of us it’s close to our home towns. Personally, I’m always excited to come play against Detroit, but it’s a tough test. It’s always one of those games where you see where you are, and play against some of the best players in this game.”
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Couture (shown, right) could be extra motivated. The center is probably the Sharks’ best hope to make the Canadian Olympic team, which will again be coached by Babcock in Sochi, Russia.
The 24-year-old downplayed that aspect of tonight’s game, though.
“The Olympic team is on my mind all year, but it’s not the most important thing,” Couture said. “They watch every single game. They’ve got enough guys scouting for the Olympic team. Just because we’re playing against his team I don’t think it makes that much of a difference. We know they’re going to watch a lot of tape. I’m playing for the Sharks right now, trying to beat the Red Wings.”
Babcock was complimentary of Couture in his overall assessment of the Sharks, whom the Red Wings will only play twice this season after moving to the Eastern Conference.
“Their team has changed. Couture, in my opinion, has basically taken over as their number one center,” Babcock said. “Pavelski in the three hole, they’ve added some youth there, and it makes them a better, quicker, harder team.
“We don’t know as much about them as we used to, but obviously we look forward to our home-and-home series with them. Should be fun.”