Season series: This is the first of six games between these Midwestern-based Original Six rivals. Chicago went 4-2-0 against Detroit last year, but the Wings won the last meeting nearly nine months ago on the last day of the regular season.
Big story: Usually these Original Six rivals have played each other once, if not a couple of times already by this point. The fact they haven't met since the Wings nearly knocked the Hawks out of the playoff chase on the last day of last season makes it an even more anticipated matchup. So does the fact Chicago is atop the Central Division and the overall League standings -- with the up-and-down Wings just three points back.
Both have been outstanding at home, but the Hawks are coming off their first regulation home loss in the month of December on Wednesday to the Los Angeles Kings. Chicago will be without rookie second-line center Marcus Kruger (suspected concussion), but will get gritty forward Daniel Carcillo back from a suspected concussion. Detroit enters off a big 3-2 win in come-from-behind fashion against the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena, but will be without Tomas Holmstrom and third-line energy center Darren Helm, who are both nursing groin injuries.
Red Wings: There might not be a more Jekyll-and-Hyde team in the League than Detroit, which has the top home record in the Western Conference at 14-2-1 and the eighth-best road record in the conference at 9-10-0. Both of their wins against the Hawks last season, however, came at the United Center -- including spoiling Chicago's home opener, in which the Hawks raised their 2010 Stanley Cup banner before the game.
The Wings still lost four games to Chicago last season, though, and nearly all of their big guns were kept quiet. Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg only played in four of the six games because of injuries and combined for 2 goals and a minus-7 rating between them. Johan Franzen, Detroit’s leading goal-scorer with 14 markers, didn't score a single goal against Chicago last year despite playing in all six games. Franzen, Zetterberg, Datsyuk and captain Nicklas Lidstrom -- who had just 1 goal and 2 points against Chicago last year -- will need to be at their best on Friday.
"It's always fun to play against them,” Zetterberg told reporters after Thursday's practice in Detroit. "All of our four lines have to play good, because every matchup is going to be a good matchup. You don't know which of the matchups is going to win you the game. You
have to be prepared."
Blackhawks: Star forward Patrick Kane is back at center of the second line again, after coach Joel Quenneville decided to mix up his forward lines in the third period of Wednesday's 2-0 loss to the Kings at the United Center. Kane, who normally plays right wing on the top line, started the year at center as an experiment and played pretty well there overall. Without Kruger, having Kane center the likes of Viktor Stalberg and Patrick Sharp on the second line is a luxury that few other teams in the League can claim.
Marian Hossa was also bumped up to right wing of the top line with Hawks captain Jonathan Toews and the gritty Carcillo on the left side, so the Hawks' scoring potential in their top two lines is still high. Chicago will also give goalie Corey Crawford -- who's got the hot hand and holds a 4-1 record against the Wings -- a fourth straight start after sitting for six straight games in favor of veteran backup Ray Emery.
"That was last year," Crawford said of his good record against Detroit. "Just because we had good success last year doesn't mean it's going to carry over. I've got to be focused. I'm sure the building's going to be really loud and it's going to be a fun game to play."
Who's hot: Datsyuk has a four-game points streak going and has scored goals in back-to-back games, while Drew Miller has scored four of his seven goals in the last six games for the Red Wings. … After stopping 36 of 38 shots against the Kings, Crawford has stopped 93 of the last 97 shots he's seen in the previous three games for a sterling .959 save percentage for the Hawks. Stalberg had a three-game goal streak snapped on Wednesday, but has scored four of his nine markers in the past four games.
Injury report: Detroit forward Jan Mursak (broken ankle) is on a conditioning stint in the American Hockey League, Patrick Eaves (broken jaw) is still recovering, Chris Conner (fractured hand) has missed six games, Holmstrom (groin) is out until next week at the earliest and Helm (groin) is expected to miss a couple of games starting with Chicago on Friday. … Kruger will miss his second straight game for Chicago, while defenseman Steve Montador has missed two practices this week for what the Hawks are calling "maintenance days."
Stat pack: Since the 2003-04 season, the Red Wings are just 1-3-1 when playing in Chicago in the month of December. The Hawks are 14-9-3 against Detroit since the 2008 season, when they went 5-3-0 after going a combined 2-13-1 in 2006 and 2007.
"In the early goings, they beat up on us a lot and now we've kind of evened the ground a little bit," said Hawks forward Patrick Sharp, who came to Chicago in 2005 in a trade with the Flyers.
"They're a team that I think, I don't want to say we look up to, but kind of model ourselves after. We were all young kids and we were getting beat 6-1 every time we played those guys. Now it's a fun rivalry."
Puck drop: Thanks to injuries, the Red Wings and Blackhawks will both have highly-regarded prospects playing in Friday's game. Chicago called up 6-foot-6, 221-pound power forward Jimmy Hayes from Rockford of the AHL to fill a wing spot on the fourth line, while Detroit called up top center prospect Gustav Nyquist on Thursday to replace Helm -- who got hurt in practice on Thursday.