GameDay: vs. Colorado (22-16-3, 47 Pts) 7:30 ET

Tonight is the second of four games between the Detroit Red Wings and the Colorado Avalanche this season. In their meeting on December 27th, the Wings skated to a 4-2 win in Denver. The teams will face off twice in February to round out the season series. Tonight’s game is on Versus.

Since losing to the Wings late last month, the Avs have posted a 1-2-1 record. On the 29th, they lost 3-1 to the Kings and two nights later, they lost 4-3 in a shootout to Phoenix. On January 2nd, they dropped a 5-2 decision to the Coyotes and hit a low point.  They rebounded, however, and snapped that skid in their last game with a 2-1 overtime win over the Islanders on Saturday. They are in 8th place in the Conference, just two points ahead of the Blues, who are hosting Columbus tonight.

The Avs are without two of their top stars, Joe Sakic and Ryan Smyth. Sakic has been out since November 30th and underwent hernia surgery on December 28th. He’ll be out another 2-3 months. Smyth broke his ankle during the team’s December 31st loss to Phoenix and will be out eight weeks or so. Colorado is also without Tyler Arnason (wrist) and Kurt Sauer (neck).

Paul Stastny leads the team in points with 44, while Milan Hejduk is second with 30. Marek Svatos is the leading goal scorer, with 16, while Stastny and Hejduk both have 15. Wojtek Wolski is the only other healthhy Colorado player with 10 or more goals.

According to Terry Frei, Jose Theodore will start tonight for Colorado.

For the Avs’ perspective, see Colorado Avalanche Talk,  In the Cheap Seats,  Jibblescribbits,  and Mile High Hockey.

The Wings are 4-1 since their win in Denver last month.  Their only loss came New Year’s Eve to St. Louis. They beat the Coyotes on December 29th (4-2), the Stars on January 2nd (4-1) and 5th (3-0), and the Blackhawks on the 6th (3-1). They are currently first overall.

Kirk Maltby (back strain) and Tomas Holmstrom (knee bruise) will both return to the lineup tonight at the expense of Matt Ellis and Aaron Downey. According to Bruce MacLeod, Holmstrom skated with Valtteri Filppula and Pavel Datsyuk this morning and Kirk Maltby was on Kris Draper’s wing with Dallas Drake. Mikael Samuelsson has been bumped down to the fourth line with Tomas Kopecky and Johan Franzen, though both he and Franzen should see some power play time to make up for it. Expect the Wings to return to their rotation of Drake, Ellis, Downey, and Kopecky, now that the team is healthy.

The Wings’ top three point-producers, Nick Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk, and Henrik Zetterberg, were named Western Conference All Star starters today. Zetterberg leads the team with 26 goals and 54 points. Datsyuk and Lidstrom both have 36 assists, but have put up 52 and 40 total points, respectively.

As per the Wings’ goalie rotation policy, Dominik Hasek will start tonight.

For more of the Wings’ perspective, see Snapshots, Abel to Yzerman, HockeyTownTodd, Behind the Jersey, No Pun Intended, Red Wings Nation, yzerman is god, Detroit Hockey, LetsGoWings, and Winging It In Motown.

The Wings have been playing strong hockey lately and there’s little reason to think they’ll stop tonight. The Avs are a bit weaker than they were at the last meeting and they were handled fairly easy then. In the past, that would have me concerned, as the Wings have often played below their potential in such situations, but that hasn’t been much of a problem this season. The main exceptions were their games against Chicago and they overcame that little problem on Sunday. With Maltby and Holmstrom returning to the lineup, the Wings are only stronger and therefore should be in good shape tonight.

One of the storylines tonight will be Chris Chelios’ becoming the second-oldest player in NHL history as he is now one day older than Moe Roberts. He’s got a while to go, however, before he’ll close in on Gordie Howe’s record of 52 years, 6 days. The NHL’s press release on the achievement is after the jump.

RED WINGS’ CHELIOS SET TO MARK LONGEVITY MILESTONE TONIGHT
NEW YORK (January 8, 2008) — Detroit Red Wings defenseman Chris Chelios is scheduled to become the second-oldest player in National Hockey League history tonight when the Red Wings host the Colorado Avalanche (7:30 p.m., ET, VERSUS).

At 45 years, 348 days, Chelios would be one day older than Moe Roberts, a former NHL goaltender serving on the Chicago Blackhawks’ training staff who came out of retirement to play one period in relief of Blackhawks starter Harry Lumley in a game against the Red Wings on Nov. 25, 1951. Chelios also is three years and four days older than the NHL’s next-oldest player, Red Wings goaltender Dominik Hasek, who turns 43 on Jan. 29. Moreover, he is one year and 94 days older than his 44-year-old coach, Mike Babcock (4/29/63).

Chelios is skating in his 24th NHL season and ninth with the Red Wings. The three-time Norris Trophy-winner (1989, ’93 and ’96) has appeared in 1,586 career games, eighth on the all-time list. He celebrates his 46th birthday on Jan. 25.

Oldest players to appear in a regular-season NHL game

Age    Date of Final Game    Club    Pos.

Gordie Howe    52 years, 6 days    Apr. 6, 1980    Hartford Whalers    RW
Chris Chelios    45 years, 348 days*    n/a    n/a    D
Moe Roberts    45 years, 347 days    Nov. 25, 1951    Chicago Blackhawks    G
Johnny Bower    45 years, 32 days    Dec. 10, 1969    Toronto Maple Leafs    G
Gump Worsley    44 years, 323 days    Apr.  2, 1974    Minnesota North Stars    G

* Chelios’s age as of Tuesday, Jan. 8, when the Red Wings host Colorado.