Wednesday night marks the first time the Blackhawks will play the Red Wings since Detroit moved to the Eastern Conference last summer, separating one of the NHL’s longest and fiercest rivalries; no two teams have faced each other more than the Wings and Blackhawks (725 regular-season games). Adding to the stakes of the game is the two squads’ recent playoff history, as Chicago erased a 3-1 series deficit in the Western Conference Semifinals to defeat Detroit in seven games. They may only see each other twice a year from now on, but the Chicago-Detroit connection still means a lot to the teams’ fans, and you can bet that Joe Louis Arena will be raucous when the puck drops.
The Red Wings have been fighting to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff race all season, but it’s due as much to injuries as anything else. Three of Detroit’s top four centers—All-Star Pavel Datsyuk, Stephen Weiss and Joakim Andersson—are currently on out due to injuries, as are forwards Johan Franzen, Cory Emmerton and Daniel Alfredsson and starting goaltender Jimmy Howard. In order to fill their roster, the Wings have been forced to call up many of their prospects from the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, and while they may be talented, the results to date have been mixed.
Corey Crawford hasn’t faced any team in the league as often as Detroit, but his success against them is nearly as singular. In 15 career games against the Red Wings, Crawford is 11-2-2 with a 1.82 goals-against average. The NHL’s reigning Third Star of the Week started all four regular-season matchups against Detroit last season, going 4-0-0 with a 1.19 GAA and .961 save percentage.
Though one could put together a solid lineup from the members of Detroit’s injured reserve, the Blackhawks will still have to contend with Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg, one of the league’s top playmakers. In 38 games this season, the Swedish winger leads the Wings with 39 points (15G, 24A), and his +14 plus/minus rating is also best on the roster. Even with a depleted group around him, the Blackhawks must deal with Zetterberg’s elite mix of speed, hands and hockey sense.
With a victory on Wednesday, Head Coach Joel Quenneville can move into sole possession of third place on the all-time wins list, surpassing former Chicago, Toronto and Montreal bench boss Dick Irvin’s 692 wins. Quenneville currently sits 91 wins away from matching New York Islanders legend Al Arbour (782) for second place on the list, and is also behind Scotty Bowman’s 1,244.
Though the Red Wings have been decimated by injuries this season, Head Coach Mike Babcock still oversees one of the most disciplined and sound systems in the NHL. Much like last weekend’s games against Anaheim and Boston, the Blackhawks will have to make the right decisions with the puck and wait for their chances, as looking past Detroit on the first leg of this back-to-back road trip is not an option.