Game vs. Blue Jackets begins long road test for Red Wings

The Detroit Red Wings have proven to be one of the most improved teams in the NHL so far, but a big test lies ahead.

After five straight games at home, the Red Wings are hoping to maintain their status as playoff contenders after a string of away games beginning with Sunday’s tilt in Columbus.

The game against the Blue Jackets begins with a four-game road trip and a stretch where the Red Wings will play nine of their next 12 games away.

The Red Wings are fourth overall in the Atlantic Division after losing the last three of their five home games.

Detroit has only had two regular losses since Nov. 12, but one of those came on Saturday night when they lost 4-1 at home to the Vegas Golden Knights.

“It hurts, but we have to change focus and be ready to go (Sunday) night,” said Red Wings captain Dylan Larkin, who leads the team with 26 points (nine goals, 17 assists).

“It’s a tackling. We’ve been good in tackling this year. We have to come out and play a solid away game.”

Columbus returns home after playing one of its best games of the year on Friday as they clinched a 4-1 win in Winnipeg.

After a dreadful start that saw the Blue Jackets lose nine of their first 12 games, Columbus has won five since Nov. 10.

Despite the rise, Columbus is still bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings.

One reason for recent success has been Columbus’ schedule, as they have played more home games.

The Blue Jackets are in a phase where they are playing 11 of 14 games at home.

Leading the way for Columbus was forward Johnny Gaudreau, who signed a seven-year, $68 million free-agent contract with the Blue Jackets during the offseason.

Of late, Gaudreau has confirmed the contract and has picked up 10 points in his last five games despite being held back by illness.

“He’s very consistent and as we know he hasn’t felt at his best,” said Columbus head coach Brad Larsen.

“But he came as promised. He plays at a pace that a lot of guys can’t. He can perform games that a lot of guys can’t either. I think if he starts to produce more and builds more confidence, he can be deadly for us.”

While Gaudreau leads Columbus with 25 points (eight goals, 17 assists), Boone Jenner leads the Blue Jackets with nine goals.

Every team struggled offensively at the beginning of the season.

Detroit ranks 19th in the league with 72 goals scored, while Columbus ranks 27th with 64 goals.

This is the teams’ second meeting of the season.

Detroit won 6-1 at Columbus on November 19. The Red Wings scored three unanswered goals in the second half and two unanswered goals in the third after the game was tied 1-1.

The next meeting of the teams will take place on January 14th in Detroit.

– Field level media

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