NHL odds: Clipped Red Wings host Toronto

By: Barry Daniels | Friday, March 25, 2011

The Toronto Maple Leafs, fighting for their playoff lives, bring a three-game winning streak into Detroit on Saturday night to play an injured Wings squad that is in the midst of a three-game losing skid. The NHL network will televise the contest from Joe Louis Arena starting at 4 p.m. (PT).

The overnight line from Sports Club has the Wings as hefty 220 home favorites, with the total set at 5 ½ goals.

Toronto is coming off Thursday’s 4-3 victory against the Colorado Avs as a slight 110 road favorite. It was Toronto’s seventh win in their last 10 away games and evened the club’s road ledger at 17-17-2-1.

More importantly, the victory moved the Leafs three points behind the Buffalo Sabres for the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. The two teams will meet next Tuesday in Toronto.

Though the combined seven goals skipped ‘over’ the 5 ½-goal closing total, the ‘under’ is still 39-34-2 in Toronto’s first 75 overall outings.

Nikolai Kulemin had a huge night for the Leafs, scoring twice in the first period to reach 28 goals on the season. Phil Kessel picked up his first goal in six games, giving him a team-leading 29. He is now one shy of hitting 30 for the third year in a row.

Goalie James Reimer continued his solid play, robbing Milan Hejduk twice and Ryan Stoa once on the same shift as the Avs pressed for the equalizer late in the second period. Reimer finished with 25 saves and raised his record to 17-7-2-2. He also gas a 2.51 GAA, a nifty .924 save percentage and three shutouts.

Toronto, now 15-8-3 since the all-star break, is still having difficulty putting the puck in the opposition’s net. The Leafs are averaging 2.6 goals per game and are connecting on just 16 percent of their power play chances. They rank 24th in both categories.

Detroit saw its losing skid reach three games with Wednesday’s 2-1 setback against Vancouver as a 110 home favorite. It was the Wings’ sixth loss in their last 10 games and allowed San Jose to tie them for the No. 2 seed in the Western Conference with 95 points.

The combined three goals dipped below the 5 ½-goal closing total, leaving the ‘under’ 6-2 in Detroit’s last eight games.

Goal scoring is not normally a problem for the Wings, evidenced by their No. 3 offensive ranking at 3.2 GPG. However, the Wings have now notched two goals or less in six of their last 10 games.

Much of the goal-scoring slump can be attributed to a slew of injuries to Detroit’s top forwards. That trend could continue Friday, as the Don Best Sports injury report lists Pavel Datsyuk, Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi as “doubtful.”

Datsyuk, Detroit’s No. 2 offensive threat with 22 goals and 35 assists, has missed the club’s last three games with a lower body injury. Franzen, with 27 goals and 24 assists, has sat out the last two contests with a groin injury.

Goaltending and defense continue to be a concern for the Wings. Jimmy Howard has dropped six of his last nine starts and has a bloated 2.77 GAA in 57 appearances. He also has an unimpressive .909 save percentage and just two shutouts.

Detroit ranks 17th defensively, allowing 2.8 goals per game. It’s a good thing the Wings are whistled for the fewest penalties in the league because their penalty killing ranks a mediocre 14th with an 83.1 percent success rate.

This will be the only meeting between these two Original Six franchises, but Toronto has captured the last three matchups and four of the last five. The ‘over’ is 6-3-1 in the last 10 overall meetings and 4-1 in the last five at Joe Louis Arena.

Toronto is off until next Tuesday when the club hosts Buffalo. Detroit continues its five-game homestand Monday against the defending champion Blackhawks.

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