Cross Checks: Johan Franzen

From the official NHL release:


NEW YORK (March 3, 2014) – Detroit Red Wings right wing Johan Franzen , New Jersey Devils center Adam Henrique and Minnesota Wild goaltender Darcy Kuemper have been named the NHL’s “Three Stars” for the week ending March 2.


Franzen posted 3-2—5 in two games to lead the Red Wings (28-20-12, 68
points) to a pair of road wins following the Olympic break, helping the club maintain the second Wild Card position in the Eastern Conference. He assisted on both goals in a 2-1 victory over the Montreal Canadiens Feb.
26, including the primary helper on Gustav Nyquist’s overtime winner with
27.3 seconds remaining. Franzen then recorded three goals, including the game-winner, for his sixth career hat trick – and first since Nov. 8, 2011 – in a 6-1 triumph over the Ottawa Senators Feb. 27. The 34-year-old Vetlanda, Sweden, native ranks fifth on the Red Wings in scoring despite missing 27 games due to injury, tallying 12-16—28 in 33 appearances.


Henrique recorded three consecutive multi-point games, sharing the League lead in goals (4), points (6) and power-play goals (2) to power the Devils (26-23-13, 65 points) to two wins in three starts. He tallied two goals – including his ninth career game-winner and eighth career shorthanded marker – for his first multi-goal performance since March 13, 2013, in a 5-2 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets Feb. 27. Henrique then collected 1-1—2 in each of the next two games: a 6-1 triumph over the New York Islanders March 1 and a 4-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks March 2.
The 24-year-old Brantford, Ont., native ranks third on the Devils with
18-15—33 in 62 games this season, including a team-leading seven power-play goals and two shorthanded tallies.


Kuemper stopped 51 of the 52 shots he faced to post a 2-0-0 record with a 0.48 goals-against average, .981 save percentage and one shutout, helping the Wild (33-21-7, 73 points) remain in the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference. He made 21 saves for his second career shutout in a
3-0 victory over the Edmonton Oilers Feb. 27. Kuemper then recorded 30 saves – and denied all seven shootout attempts he faced – to pick up a 2-1 win over the Vancouver Canucks Feb. 28. The 23-year-old Saskatoon, Sask., native has appeared in 17 games this season (including 14 consecutive starts), compiling a 10-3-2 record with a 2.20 goals-against average and .924 save percentage.

Not on Z's watch.

Those were Dan Cleary's words Tuesday when discussing how badly the Detroit Red Wings want to avoid missing the playoffs for the first time in 22 seasons.

It just can't happen in Henrik Zetterberg's first tour of duty wearing the C.

"It's his first year as captain, he's such a great captain, we respect him so much as a player and love him so much as a guy, we just don't want to see it happen on his watch," Cleary told "And all of us have a lot of pride -- 21 years and counting in the playoffs for this organization, no one wants to be on the team that ends it."

The Red Wings enter Wednesday night's big tilt with the visiting Los Angeles Kings one point out of the final playoff spot in the Western Conference (held by the Columbus Blue Jackets), but with one game in hand.

The Wings hear the talk that after 20-plus years near the top of the hockey world, four Stanley Cups and easily the model organization in the game during that span, their time has come to find out how the regular folk live.

Talk of Detroit's demise also fuels the veterans in that dressing room who have Cup rings.

"It's a huge part, to be honest," said Cleary, a Cup champion in 2008 with the Wings. "We know. Every hockey player knows what's being said about their team."

Truth is, battling for their playoff lives in the home stretch of the regular season is simply an uncommon feeling for the veteran core of this team.

"It is, there's no other way to put it; we've never been in this position, quite frankly," Cleary said. "If anything, we're usually battling for first place or home ice in the playoffs. It's been different."

Also different is the team's offensive struggles. The Wings sit 21st overall in goals per game (2.47), nearly half a goal down from last season (2.92), when they were seventh in the league.

"When you're struggling offensively and losing, it falls on the guys that are counted on to score, and it hurts. Guys take it personally. Obviously I'm one of those guys," said Cleary, who has nine goals in 45 games.

Monday night's 4-0 win over the visiting Phoenix Coyotes, only the fourth time in a dozen games the Wings scored three or more goals, was a welcome sight.

"Monday night was good, [Valtteri] Filppula scored, [Johan] Franzen scored," Cleary said. "Once Franzen scores, next thing you know he reels off six or seven goals in a few games.

"We also scored three on the power play, which was really huge, to be honest."

Filppula had only one goal and one assist in his past 15 games before Monday's tally, so the Wings hope he's ready to turn it around. The center plays nearly 18 minutes a game, and the Wings need consistent offensive production from him.

A tough test awaits Wednesday night in the reigning Cup champs from L.A.

"L.A. is a great team," Cleary said. "They started the season with a bit of a lull, which happens. But they're firing on all cylinders now.

"That team is rolling now. L.A. can't win the division but they're still jockeying for home ice. It's a big game."

The Kings' 2-1 road loss to the Minnesota Wild on Tuesday night, coupled with the San Jose Sharks' 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars, has L.A. and the Sharks tied at 57 points in the 4-5 battle in the West; the Kings own the tiebreaker, with more regulation/overtime wins. To Cleary's point, the Kings still have plenty to play for in terms of wanting to nail down the No. 4 spot.

After Wednesday's game, the Wings host the Nashville Predators the next night before closing out the regular season Saturday at Dallas.

Just get in. That's all Detroit wants. Because after that, who knows in this parity-filled league?

"Obviously you have Chicago and Anaheim playing really well [in the West], and Pittsburgh in the East, but other than that, everybody is so tight," Cleary said. "If you don't think that all you need to do is get in and that you have a legitimate chance to move on, then you're crazy; because you really do. We have a great goalie [Jimmy Howard], and a great goalie can bring you a long way."

You can look at games in hand and the upcoming schedule and project all you want, but at this time of year, the results are the results and the standings are the standings.

And so it is that on Thursday morning, the Detroit Red Wings, playoff participants every season since 1990, find themselves on the outside looking in. The shocking state of affairs in the Western Conference comes as a result of a gritty comeback win by the Cinderella Columbus Blue Jackets, who edged Anaheim 3-2 in overtime Wednesday night as the Wings folded 3-2 to the lowly Calgary Flames at the Saddledome.

Credit goes to the Blue Jackets, who trailed 1-0 and 2-1 to the playoff-bound Ducks before Fedor Tyutin gave Columbus the win in overtime. The Blue Jackets refuse to be bowed, in spite of the fact they are in the middle of a playoff-busting six-game road trip. They have won five in a row, the past three in either shootout or overtime. They still have to visit Los Angeles, San Jose and Dallas before closing at home April 27 against Nashville, so their work is not nearly done.

But what of the Red Wings, who have but one win in their past five games and three wins in the past 10? Yes, the Wings’ injuries, especially along the blue line, have been well-documented, but this is a battle-tested group led by Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Johan Franzen, who aren’t getting it done offensively. The Wings have managed just 18 goals in 10 games. The power play has dried up, going 3-for-23 in six games, including 0-for-5 against the Flames. The Wings outshot Calgary 38-17, but still couldn’t close the deal against one of the league’s weaker teams.

The Wings still very much control their destiny as they trail Columbus by two points with a game in hand. They also own the tiebreaker in terms of the number of regulation or overtime victories. But those factors mean little if you don’t win, and losing to the Flames -- who are tied for 13th with Nashville for the second-lowest point total in the Western Conference -- is the kind of result that will loom large. The Red Wings have five games remaining, three at home, but unless they can find the back of the net, all of that will be moot, as will a postseason streak that dates back almost a generation.