The Carolina Hurricanes will end a six-game road trip against the Detroit Red Wings at Little Caesars Arena on Wednesday.
The Hurricanes have taken nine of 10 points on their extended jaunt across the United States, most recently beating the New York Islanders 3-0 to take their season record to 15-6-6 which ranks second in the Metropolitan Division.
A much-improved Red Wings side have lost their last three games, but with a 13-8-6 overall record proudly sit fourth in a competitive Atlantic Division, one point from a Wild Card spot into the playoffs which they haven't participated in for six seasons.
The Red Wings fired Jeff Blashill following seven years in charge after they missed the playoffs by 26 points last season and hired associate coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning Derek Lalonde.
In an unusual turn of events, Blashill then replaced Lalonde in the role with the Lightning, seeking the opportunity to win a Stanley Cup which Lalonde won twice over a four-year period.
Lalonde's hiring was just the start of a major sea change from General Manager Steve Yzerman who decided the long re-build project was over, investing significantly into veterans to support a core of exciting youngsters, and it has made the Red Wings far more competitive.
+240 To Reach the Playoffs, Yzerman's key additions all sit within the Red Wings' top five-point scorers with Dominik Kubalik (25 points; 10 goals, 15 assists) second, David Perron (21 points; nine goals, 12 assists) fourth and Andrew Copp (17 points; three goals, 14 assists) fifth.
The Hurricanes have collected points in each of their past seven games (5-0-2) and are 5-0-4 in their past nine road games, despite being without several key players including number one goalie Frederik Andersen, forwards Sebastian Aho, Jesper Fast and Ondrej Kase and long-term absentees Max Pacioretty and Jake Gardiner.
In the shut-out victory against the Islanders, Carolina iced with 11 forwards and seven defencemen, plus two goalies, just reaching the NHL minimum on a game day roster.
Overall, the Hurricanes are 10-3-5 away from home and despite their depleted roster will offer a significant challenge to the Red Wings who are 7-4-3 on home ice.
Only two NHL teams conceded more goals than the Red Wings’ 3.80 average per-game last season which has improved to 3.11 (17th in the league) in large part due to the acquisition of netminder Ville Husso from the St. Louis Blues.
In 19 starts, the 27-year-old is 11-4-4 with a .916 save percentage and 2.56 goals-against-average (GAA) and his addition has proved crucial with Alex Nedeljkovic who started 52 games last season struggling with a .880 save percentage and 4.09 GAA in eight starts (2-4-2).
At the opposite end of the ice, Carolina have been without their number-one Andersen for the past six weeks due to a lower-body injury, but his absence has been well covered by 23-year-old rookie Pyotr Kochetkov who has gone 6-1-4 with a .918 save percentage and 2.21 GAA.
Keeping goals out has been a consistent strength of the Hurricanes under coach Rod Brind'amour and they again rank high in the league, conceding the sixth least (2.70 goals per-game).
Carolina’s 2.89 goals for per-game is 27th in the NHL, and with Aho (11 goals, 16 assists) in particular a continued question mark for the game, they will go into Detroit with the plan of keeping goals out and being opportunistic at the other end to extend their excellent road record.
Brind'amour was hired by the Hurricanes as head coach in 2018 and is the first to lead them to the playoffs in three consecutive seasons.
They are -1100 To Reach the Playoffs for the fourth time in a row this season and +1500 To Win Outright the Stanley Cup for the first time since their only other championship in 2006, which Brind'amour was a part of as a player.
Tyler Bertruzzi has been placed on injured reserve for the second time this season by the Red Wings and after undergoing surgery will prove a big miss against the Hurricanes and for at least the next six weeks.
Bertruzzi scored 30 goals and 62 points in 68 games for the Red Wings last season but has been limited to just nine appearance and four points this season.
The absence of the exciting winger, combined with Carolina’s injury woes and their focus on keeping games tight suggests it’ll likely be a low scoring affair on Tuesday decided by fine margins.
Those could be Detroit’s slightly better powerplay - 21.4% to Carolina’s 17.2% - or by the Hurricanes’ dominance on face-offs, winning 53.22% (fifth in the NHL) compared to Detroit’s 47.6% (25th).