Five things to watch: Are the Red Wings falling out of the playoff race?

The Hockey News
Detroit Red Wings

By Gareth Bush, Brian O’Neill and Josh Elliott
From the struggling Detroit Red Wings and Phoenix Coyotes to the incredibly hot Wayne Simmonds, we get you prepared for the four-game night ahead in the NHL with our five things to watch.

Howie Gonna Do It?
The whispers are starting. Is this the year? Is this the year the Red Wings miss the playoffs? Detroit has slipped to 11th in the Eastern Conference and sits two points back of the final wild card spot, with three teams to climb over in the standings. And goaltender Jimmy Howard is hurt again. Howard missed eight games in December with a lower body injury and, well, you probably saw what happened on HBO’s 24/7. The Red Wings struggled over that stretch, winning just three of eight games. Howard only has nine wins on the season through 29 appearances and while his loss will hurt, the hurt goes deeper than that. Pavel Datsyuk, Daniel Alfredsson and Johan Franzen highlight a long list of injured Wings. Jonas Gustavsson will come off the IR to take the reins from Howard tonight against Chicago, but as injuries continue to plague this team, missing the post-season is starting to look like a very real possibility.

Simmply the Best
Sidney Crosby. John Tavares. Wayne Simmonds. Little-known fact: as of Tuesday, Wayne Simmonds was the league’s leading scorer since Dec. 17. He lost that title to the Tavares-Thomas Vanek-Kyle Okposo trio last night, but he might’ve held it if the Flyers’ game against the Carolina Hurricanes hadn’t been put off until today. Simmonds has 12 goals and 22 points in his past 17 games and leads the Flyers with 17 goals this season. Yes, that’s a lot of 17s for No. 17 in orange and white, who is also third on his team in penalty minutes (77) and first in shooting percentage (13.9 percent). Simmonds has 10 points in 11 career games against Carolina and he’ll look to add to that tonight.

Burned Out
They may not be very good, but you can’t deny the Calgary Flames always keep things interesting. Whether it is hiring Brian Burke, instigating a line brawl with the Vancouver Canucks, signing Matt Stajan to another mystifying four-year contract or placing most of the team on the trade block before the deadline, there’s always something to keep you interested. Rumors have been swirling around the likes of Dennis Wideman, Mike Cammalleri and Lee Stempniak and you have to wonder if any of them will step up their game to improve their trade stock and the likelihood of landing with a Cup contending team. Having lost eight of their past 10, the Flames host the Coyotes tonight, who beat Calgary 6-0 earlier this month. Keep an eye on who plays well for Calgary, as Burke is in the process of deciding who to keep and who to trade before the March 5 trade deadline.

Habs’ Youngsters Get Called Up
With Canadiens center Alex Galchenyuk likely out until after the Olympic break with a hand injury, former first round picks Louis Leblanc (18th in 2009) and Nathan Beaulieu (17th in 2011) will both be in the lineup. It’s the second time both players have been called up from Hamilton this season. Beaulieu has one assist in six games patrolling the Habs blueline and has put up seven goals and 31 points in 67 games for the Bulldogs this season. Leblanc has yet to score in his five games with the Canadiens this year. It’ll be interesting to see how the two youngsters play against the top team in the Eastern Conference, the Pittsburgh Penguins, who just had a franchise record 13-game home winning streak snapped in a 5-1 loss to Florida on Monday.

Offensive Drought in the Desert
Maybe drought is a little too strong, but the Phoenix Coyotes have struggled to put the puck in the net recently, which has helped add to their recent slump. The Coyotes are 3-7-0 in their past 10 and have dropped five of their past seven. In those seven losses, the Yotes only managed to light the lamp 12 times. Phoenix sits four points behind the Minnesota Wild for the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. A win against the Calgary Flames, who give up the third-most goals per game in the league, may be just what’s needed to turn their offensive misfortunes around. A bright spot for Phoenix is defenseman Keith Yandle, who has five assists in a current four-game point streak.