"There has always been a little bit of a buzz in the air whenever the Hawks and Wings meet. Then you add in an outdoor game at Wrigley Field and the national exposure ... it's Kane and Toews and Campbell, and Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom. It has the makings for an exciting day of hockey."
-- Ken Holland
He understands you play the games for two points. That's the reality of the NHL, but when its time to let the boys be boys, you let them have their fun.
Holland plans to do that beginning Wednesday when the Detroit Red Wings arrive at Wrigley Field for the practice day before the Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic 2009 on Thursday (1 p.m. ET, NBC, CBC, RDS, NHL Radio, XM Radio).
"It's a big game and we're both fighting for the division, but it's game 37 out of 82 for us, and no matter what, there is still a race going on and I expect it to go until the last week of the regular season," Holland told NHL.com in a phone interview Monday. "In the grand scheme of things, we might never be involved in an outdoor game again. We definitely will never be involved in a game in Wrigley Field, so let's soak it up."
Holland said he told his players to bring their families or significant others to Chicago this week. He invited them all to Wrigley Field for a family skate after the team's hour-long practice Wednesday afternoon.
"The first hour is going to be a practice. It's going to be an opportunity to get the feel for what it is going to be like on the first of January, the ice and surroundings, but at the same time, it's an event," Holland said. "It's more than a game and that's why we told the players to bring their families, so they could skate on Wrigley Field, too.
"It's an unbelievable city, a great rivalry, a famous venue and let's have fun. When it comes time to drop the puck at 1 p.m. ET on Thursday, we'll focus in. We'll go to work for two points, and when we move on to Minnesota on Friday to play there Saturday night it'll be back to business, but let's enjoy this now.
"This is what we play for. These are the games, the big games. If this doesn't get your juices flowing, you might be in the wrong sport. This is what it is all about. This is a great week."
Before the Wings get here, they have some business to tend to at home against those very same Blackhawks. The two hook up in the first half of the historic home-and-home series Tuesday night at Joe Louis Arena.
The Blackhawks come in after winning in Minnesota, 4-1, Sunday night. It was their franchise-best ninth straight victory, putting them four points behind the Wings in the Central Division standings, with two games in hand.
The Wings, meanwhile, lost in regulation at Nashville on Friday and in a shootout at Colorado on Saturday. They still are first in the Central with 51 points and second behind San Jose in the Western Conference standings.
"We haven't been playing nearly as well as we need to," Holland said. "We rose to the challenge when San Jose came in (a 6-0 win Dec. 18), and I'm anxious to see how our team is going to respond to this. I like playing teams on top of their game. It really shows you where you are."
Holland is supremely impressed with the Blackhawks' rise of late, and he said he understands that they are the new blood in the League, and as a result the Red Wings are flying under the radar a bit even though they are the Stanley Cup champions.
"I think it's great for the League and it's well deserved," Holland said. "Obviously they have a young, exciting team. They have won nine in a row. Hockey is booming (in Chicago).
"I also understand that we're sort of old news. We're not doing anything differently than we have done in the past and that's not going to generate news. We're under the radar and I don't think there is anything wrong with being under the radar. We won the Cup. We had our time in the spotlight and it's good to see somebody else in the spotlight now. They look like they're built for the long haul and hopefully we can continue to be competitive and get our rivalry front and center."
Holland said captain Nicklas Lidstrom is day-to-day with an ankle injury. He took one of Shea Weber's ferocious slap shots off his left ankle in Friday's game at Nashville and it immediately swelled up. Lidstrom sat out Saturday's game in Colorado.
Initial X-rays were negative, but Lidstrom had more taken Sunday.
"The X-rays were negative, but that doesn't mean there is not a fracture," Holland said. "We should know by (Tuesday) what his status is. Is it for sure just a bruise or more than a bruise? Right now he's day-to-day."
Goalie Chris Osgood is close to returning from a groin injury that has sidelined him for the last two weeks. Osgood has been practicing with the team for the last few days and Holland said he thinks he's ready to play, but "it's a matter of, where is his game at.
"For 10 days he dressed as a backup and we toiled with the idea of putting him on long-term I.R., but we're so tight against the cap that I told him he has to let me know where he is at. He told me if he had to go in relief he could. He got through some games and it's been two weeks now. I think he's ready to play if we need him and want him. He'll get a good practice (Monday) and a good skate (Tuesday), and Mike will ask him how he feels. He's ready to go on Thursday if we need him."
Of course, if he's not ready to play Thursday, the Wings would use Ty Conklin, who would become the only player to play in all three League-sponsored outdoor games. Conklin was the goalie for Edmonton in 2003 at the Heritage Classic and for Pittsburgh at last year's inaugural Winter Classic in Buffalo.
"There has always been a little bit of a buzz in the air whenever the Hawks and Wings meet," Holland said. "Then you add in an outdoor game at Wrigley Field and the national exposure ... it's Kane and Toews and Campbell, and Datsyuk, Zetterberg and Lidstrom. It has the makings for an exciting day of hockey.
"We're expecting that our team will raise its game. I can't tell you we'll win, but I really think we're going to play well against Chicago. I think it is going to be great hockey and great games. This is what it's all about."
Contact Dan Rosen at email@example.com.