If the Detroit Red Wings fail to win the Central Division, finding a reason why won't be difficult.
Poor road play has been an issue all season for the short-handed Red Wings, who try to avoid a fifth loss in six games away from home Saturday night against the Nashville Predators.
A league-best 28-4-2 home record has helped keep Detroit (44-21-3) near the top of the overall NHL standings throughout this season, but road struggles could cost it a division title and possibly even home ice in the opening round of the playoffs.
The Red Wings are 16-17-1 on the road and have lost four of their last five away from Joe Louis Arena. Detroit has only two regulation victories in its last 11 road games, winning three times in shootouts during that stretch.
Home ice proved beneficial to the Red Wings again Friday, as they rallied for a 4-3 victory over Los Angeles despite playing without captain Nicklas Lidstrom, leading scorer Pavel Datsyuk, No. 1 goaltender Jimmy Howard and forward Todd Bertuzzi.
"You have to give credit to the farm team,' said Henrik Zetterberg, who had two goals. "When we need them, they're ready to play.'
Valtteri Filppula scored with 4:02 remaining and Darren Helm netted the winner nearly three minutes later. Detroit won despite registering 15 shots - seven fewer than its previous season low.
Lidstrom sat out his fifth straight game as he recovers from an ankle injury. He won't play Saturday.
Datsyuk skated in practice Thursday for the first time since having arthroscopic knee surgery Feb. 21. He's expected to play at some point during the Wings' three-game California trip that begins Tuesday in Los Angeles.
"Nice to come back and skate with teammates," Datsyuk told the team's official website. "Every day closer. That's all I can say for sure. I (will) go with team to west coast and we'll see."
Howard is expected to sit out again versus Nashville, but his groin injury isn't considered serious. Backup Joey MacDonald has held opponents to three goals or fewer in all 10 of his starts this season, including a 20-save effort in a 2-1 home win over the Predators on Feb. 17.
Opening a four-game trip in Nashville (39-21-7) will be a challenge for the Red Wings, who have won three of four in the season series and split two road meetings. The Predators are 11-1-2 in their last 14 home games, allowing two goals or fewer 12 times during that span.
Since losing his first three home starts, Nashville's Pekka Rinne - the league leader with 37 wins - is 22-5-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average at Bridgestone Arena. Rinne, however, hasn't been nearly as sharp this season versus Detroit, going 1-3-0 with a 3.25 GAA in four meetings.
The Predators appear headed to the playoffs and are still in the mix for the Central title, trailing St. Louis by eight points.
Coming off its first regulation home loss since Jan. 5, Nashville rebounded with a 4-2 victory over Colorado on Thursday. Sergei Kostitsyn scored a key insurance goal late in the second period, and the Predators held on to improve to 6-2-1 in their last nine games overall.
"I think we're still in striking distance to win our division, so we need to be desperate to do that and that'll give us home ice in the playoffs," captain Shea Weber said.
This contest closes a three-game homestand for Nashville, which begins a four-game road trip Monday at Phoenix.
The Associated Press News Service
The Associated Press
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