DETROIT — Chicago-Detroit, Blackhawks-Red Wings: any way you say it, it usually means great hockey, great history and great rivalry. Alas, we only get to see it twice a season now, unless somehow the two teams meet in the Stanley Cup Final.
But we’re getting way ahead of ourselves with that one. Let’s just enjoy the games we have with these two, shall we? The Blackhawks are doing just fine in the Western Conference while the Red Wings are struggling in the East, mainly because they’ve been so injured.
Still, it’s Blackhawks-Red Wings, Chicago-Detroit. It’s always entertaining, and you can bet that the Wings, injured or not, are going to give the Blackhawks everything they’ve got on Joe Louis Arena ice. So while we wait for the later eastern-time start tonight, let’s look at the Five Things to watch for in this evening’s Blackhawks-Red Wings game:
1. Don’t relax against the dinged-up team. Yes, the Red Wings are missing some big guys from their lineup, including the ridiculously talented Pavel Datsyuk. Doesn’t matter. The Blackhawks can’t treat the Wings like they’re missing talent. Right before the New Year, the Blackhawks played a Blues team minus a few players including Alex Steen. The Blues won. Earlier this month Colorado dressed just 17 skaters when it came to Chicago; the Avalanche won. You get where we’re going here, right? Don’t assume a “W” when the opposition is hurting.
2. Keep everyone involved. Why do the Blackhawks do so well in back-to-backs, especially the second game? Because they roll all four lines, all three defensive pairs, in the first game. They’ll need to do that tonight, take advantage of their depth, to have a good chance at a successful Wednesday and Thursday on the road.
3. Test Jonas Gustavsson. The Swedish goaltender was great for the Wings early on, and has an 11-3-2 record entering tonight’s game. But Gustavsson is also coming off a groin injury and is getting his first start since Dec. 28. Corey Crawford returned from the same injury earlier this month, and outside of one game he has looked good. Still, you never know how a goaltender responds in his first game back from any lower-body injury, so the Blackhawks will want to test him as much as possible.
4. Beware the Red Wings’ start. If the Wings have been consistent this season, it’s been in their good starts. Detroit has 45 first-period goals this season, just four fewer than the Blackhawks. If the Blackhawks get off to a strong start, the second period should be theirs; they’ve scored 70 second-period goals this season, compared to the Wings’ 32.
5. Who’s our pick to click for this evening? We’re going to go with Niklas Hjalmarsson. He was very noticeable (in a good way) against the Boston Bruins on Sunday, and we think that continues tonight.