Detroit Red Wings' Justin Abdelkader, center, raises his arms toward teammate Drew Miller, right, after scoring the first goal of an NHL hockey game against the Chicago Blackhawks in the first period in Chicago, Friday Dec. 30, 2011.Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford, left, looks on. (AP Photo/Charles Cherney)
I'm sure if they had their preference, the Hawks would have put this game off another couple of days, maybe a week.
Because when you've only just emerged from a horrific losing streak, and are just starting to build confidence and your overall game, you'd rather not have to deal with Detroit while things are still a bit shaky. But you don't get that choice in the NHL. You do what the schedule says.
Fans have probably heard all about the Wings 23-game home winning streak. What that hasn't translated into is dynamic form on the road, where Detroit is only a middling 15-15-1. There probably isn't one, defining reason for the two versions of Detroit. Sure, at home they get the matchups they want, but a team that has as much talent and smarts as the Wings shouldn't be so dictated by getting the guys out against the opponents they want. It's probably just more of a random thing.
But the Hawks don't have to worry about that streak tonight, as it's here in Rahm-ville. While the Hawks don't have the shiny record to display that Detroit does, they still have been awfully good at home for the most part, and have to protect that tonight.
While a lot of national media have already crowned the Wings champs because that's what happens when they're even just barely competent (much less really good, as they are this year), this is not an unstoppable force.
The Hawks and Wings have played three times, and all the games ended 3-2. The Wings took the two that went to the extra frame, but it could just as easily have been the Hawks taking two of the three so far. In the two games here, the Hawks controlled Detroit for long stretches, including their most impressive defensive display on December 30th when after taking the lead early in the 3rd the Hawks held the Wings to just two shots the rest of the way. An effort like that will be required again tonight.
As weird as it may be to say, the Wings are a good matchup for the Hawks. That's because they like to play a similar game. Detroit only dumps the puck in when they have to, and even then sometimes not. They want to carry it in with speed, which allows the Hawks to defend in the way they do best, i.e. stand up at the blue line, deny that entry, and use their speed to counter the other way with players caught. The Hawks defense is built for that, the exact opposite of what they had to do Sunday against the Blues.
Playing into it even more, and when I say this it always sends Wings fans into orbit (but then so does anything I say), is that the Wings defense just isn't that quick. In all three games, there have been times when it has really struggled with the Hawks speed. Watch for Toews, Kane, Hossa, Stalberg, and a couple others to try and beat the Wings d-men to the outside. If the Wings D tries to cheat too much to the outside, that leaves a huge swath open down the middle that is far more dangerous.
But that's only half the battle. Jimmy Howard returns in goal for Detroit tonight, and he's been stellar all year. Even if you scorch the Wings blue line, he can keep them in the game or win it by himself no matter how many chances he's facing. Corey Crawford will have to match, which he has done in all three games between the two this year.
Defensively, Detroit is still as big of a challenge as you'll see. Pavel Datsyuk has just been in unconscious form all season, and while Henrik Zetterberg hasn't scored as much as we're used to, he's still awfully dangerous. He's also provided fodder for his two wingers, Filppula and Hudler, to have career years.
These games are a blast for the neutral, not so much for the partisan.
Sam Fels is the proprietor of The Committed Indian, an unofficial program for the Blackhawks. You may have seen him hocking the magazine outside the United Center at Gate 3. The program is also available for purchase online. Fels is a lifelong 'Hawks fan and he also writes for Second City Hockey .