San Jose Sharks (41-8-9) at Detroit Red Wings (39-13-8)
When Claude Lemieux first joined the Sharks organization, even while skating for their distant Asian cousins, I had my doubts. Part of it was that I didn't see any roster need for him, and part of it was that I couldn't stand the guy. I mean, I enjoyed watching him the way that you like a villain on a reality show -- in the late 90s, Colorado/Detroit games were always fun to watch because Lemieux was such a target. But have him on my team? No thanks.
And now with a dozen or so games under his belt, I'd grade the Claude Lemieux experiment as a C+. He hasn't hurt the team but he hasn't helped, and I can see him immediately getting shoved aside once Marcel Goc gets healthy. If/when Torrey Mitchell comes back, Lemieux goes further down the depth chart -- and that's not to take away anything from his comeback, which is still pretty remarkable.
Of course, during the playoffs you can carry a bunch of AHL guys on the roster, and I have no problem keeping him around for that. He'll be a good option to have in the post-season, though I wouldn't rely him for anything. It's hard to argue for him when he's battling the effects of age.
Which leads us all to today's big showdown in Detroit. From the way the Detroit contingent is reacting, you'd think that the Kris Draper incident happened yesterday. Look, I know booing the evil guy is good fun -- if Theo Fleury pulled the same kind of comeback and was on Dallas, Sharks fans would boo the hell out of the guy. But still, it just seems rather absurd that so much is focusing on this one guy. It's like (here comes a wrestling reference) when I see those commercials for TNA Wrestling with Sting* and Kevin Nash and I think "Jeez, these guys are building a company around guys who were popular 15 years ago."**
*If you don't know this, there's Sting the wrestler and Sting the singer. The dude in the white face paint and black cloak isn't the same guy who wrote Message In A Bottle.
**I haven't actually seen any of this, so perhaps unlike Lemieux, they've defied time and are still as physically fit as 1997. But I doubt it.
So while the Lemieux sideshow is going on, you've got a much bigger game happening outside of it. Both teams are reasonably healthy for the first time in their season series (minus Tomas Holmstrom and whatever mental-health tonic they're giving Chris Osgood) and both are rested. Since its the last time they're going to see each other this year, it presents the most level playing field to see who's better.
For the Sharks, though, I think the more important thing is to focus on getting consecutive road victories. Getting that winning streak going at home is great, but you want to shake off any road blues prior to the post-season, and that little funk from a few weeks back wasn't exactly promising. In fact, it was downright sloppy, and while you can blame a flu- and injury-depleted lineup, it still showcased a bunch of bad habits and poor decision making.
But hey, maybe the Lemieux thing will be a good thing after all. If the fans and the team wind up focusing on him (though I doubt Mike Babcock will let his team get too wound up about something that happened during the Bill Clinton years), perhaps it'll be a nice distraction to let the Sharks strike first.
Prediction: Sharks 5, Wings 4. Goals by Boyle, Thornton, Cheechoo, Roenick, and Clowe (PP).