1. SEEING RED
Just four days after their first clash of the season, the Blackhawks and Red Wings finish off their yearly battle with an afternoon puck drop at the United Center. Chicago's 5-2 win on Wednesday will still be fresh in the minds of Detroit's players as they haven't played a game since, while the Blackhawks are looking to rebound from a 4-2 loss to the Bruins on Thursday. The first tilt between the two sides featured plenty of end-to-end action, as Detroit's top six put plenty of pressure on Chicago's defense, forcing Corey Crawford to make some strong saves in the first two periods. Despite not scoring, the Red Wings' best line in that tilt was their veteran trio of Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader, which controlled close to 65 percent of shot attempts while taking on the Blackhawks' top line, but with last change in his pocket, Head Coach Joel Quenneville could opt to field a more defensive matchup to disrupt their rhythm.
2. RUSSIAN ALONG
Artemi Panarin played a starring role in Chicago's win in Detroit, scoring twice while skating 19:02, second among team forwards. The performance extended his lead among league rookies to 16 points as of Friday, and his 24 goals this season are five ahead of the second-place skater, Detroit's Dylan Larkin. Wednesday also marked Panarin's fifth multi-goal game of the season, which shares the NHL rookie lead with Arizona's Max Domi. The 24-year-old, who was named to Team Russia for the World Cup of Hockey this autumn, has actually fared better away from the United Center this season, amassing 35 of his 59 points on the road (fifth-best in the NHL), but his 24 home points still ranks third on the team, and he's scored the same number of goals (12) at home and away.
3. FOLLOW THE LEADERS
The Red Wings have traditionally allowed their prospects to develop for at least several seasons in the minors; only three skaters on their current roster are aged 23 or under, and they're perennially one of the older teams in the league on average. Part of that is due to the longevity of leaders like Datsyuk and Zetterberg. The former sixth-round pick in 1998 has had injury problems over the last two seasons, but hasn't seen his point-per-game pace slip dramatically, and he's still causing havoc in the offensive zone with the best of them; on Wednesday, Datsyuk led Detroit with six scoring chances and nine individual shot attempts. Zetterberg reached the 900-game mark on Wednesday and continues to lead Detroit with 41 points in 64 games this season. Detroit's captain has gone six tilts without recording a point, while Datsyuk has just one goal—an overtime winner against Detroit last Tuesday—over that same span, so getting those two going on Sunday will be important if the Wings want to take two points from the Blackhawks.
One silver lining for Chicago in Thursday's loss was the first impression of a potential new third line, which featured Teuvo Teravainen centering wingers Dale Weise—who made his debut with the team—and Tomas Fleischmann. Though the trio did not begin the game together (and may not do so on Sunday), Head Coach Joel Quenneville pulled the trigger midway through the game when his team was trying to put together scoring opportunities. Toward the end of the second period, that trio reaped the rewards when Teravainen's touch-pass found a streaking Fleischmann, who netted his first goal with the club and 11th of the season, giving fans a glimpse of the offensive possibilities of that combination heading into the playoffs. Overall, the trio spent about 6 minutes together in Boston (per war-on-ice.com), and they could be a quick-trigger option for Quenneville on Sunday as well.
5. POWER STRUGGLE
The Blackhawks' power play has been a source of goals all season, especially lately: They've converted four times in the past three games and are 12-for-25 since February 13, jumping into second place in the league behind Washington. The percentages have dropped on the other side of the coin, however, with a penalty kill that's struggling in the continued absence of Marcus Kruger and Marian Hossa, two of the team's central figures while shorthanded. Chicago has now allowed opponents to score 14 times on the power play over the last 12 games, keeping a clean sheet in just two of those games, and a unit that ranked in the top 12 for much of the first half of the season has plummeted to 23rd with a 79 percent PK. While getting Hossa back soon should provide some relief, the Blackhawks can help their own cause by staying out of the box against Detroit.
THE FINAL WORD
Despite winning Wednesday's game by a fairly comfortable margin, Detroit gave the Blackhawks plenty of trouble in the early stages. The mix of smart veterans, young speedsters and a dash of physicality makes the Red Wings a tough opponent to defeat comprehensively, and they'll be well-rested after four days off. Chicago suffered from some poor puck decisions in the defensive and neutral zones in their loss to the Bruins, so cleaning up those mistakes will be important against a team that loves to pounce on opportunities. After Sunday's tilt, the Blackhawks will face three of the toughest teams in the Western Conference in Dallas, St. Louis and Los Angeles, so gaining another two points in the standings will be important as they prepare for the last 15 games of the regular-season schedule.