There's always a forbidding tenor to the day when the Blackhawks prepare for a game against the Detroit Red Wings.
The games are a demonstration in torture. Even comprehensive victory does not bring joy so much as relief that it's over. Yes, my disaste for all things Winged Wheel is unhealthy and immature and probably useless. But so's being a hockey fan, so deal.
Tonight's encounter will bring back something I haven't felt in a long time --- big red machine is rolling into town to show you just how far away you are from their level. Haven't seen this around here in about two years. Last season was the first time I could remember feeling on par with the Wings when they showed up, and I still was terrified. With the Hawks banged up, screwed up, and possibly used up, and the Wings rolling atop the Conference, well, I just want to hide.
But stranger things have happened, and you can do wonderful things if you show up and work harder than the other guys. That's hard to do against Detroit, the most disciplined and well-coached team in the league. But the Hawks have no choice with the talent-gap on display tonight. Here's how the Wings line up:
Line 1: Pavel Datsyuk-Henrik Zetterberg-Tomas Holmstrom
Line 3: Jiri Hudler-Justin Abdelkader-Dan Cleary
Line 4: Drew Miller-Darren Helm-Patrick Eaves
Defensive Pair 1: Nick Lidstrom-Brad Stuart
Pair 2: Brian Rafalski-Jonathan Ericsson
Pair 3: Niklas Kronwall-Ruslan Salei
Starting goalie: Jimmy Howard
Just typing that lineup makes me ill. The top line is as talented and explosive as you'll find, and what's really unfair is that they're so good defensively that coach Mike Babcock also uses them to nullify your biggest scoring threat. If that doesn't work they only have the best defenseman of all time behind that in Lidstrom (who could be making his second to last visit to the UC tonight). The second line has been stellar all year as well.
If you're looking for hope, Jimmy Howard hasn't been great this month. He's been lit up a couple times by the Sharks and Kings in recent weeks. But that's not a guarantee.
You know the drill here if you've watched any hockey. The Wings will try and control the puck for all 60 minutes, and are fully capable of doing so. They will hound our d-men when they have the puck. When the Hawks do gain control in the offensive zone, the Wings will collapse toward their net and prevent tons of shots from getting through. When they are attacking, Tomas Holmstrom and Johan Franzen and Todd Bertuzzi will be introducing their backside to Corey Crawford often. Datsyuk will make someone look stupid.
Won't this be fun?