CHICAGO -- A game within the game will be one of the most interesting aspects to watch when the Chicago Blackhawks and Detroit Red Wings conclude their season series at United Center on Wednesday (7:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN, TVA Sports).
The game pits the NHL's top-rated penalty killers (Blackhawks) against the League's best on power plays (Red Wings).
Will Detroit's 26 percent success rate with the man-advantage (51 goals in 196 opportunities) be too much for Chicago, or will the Blackhawks' 87.9 percent rate of killing power plays hinder the Red Wings' offensive capability?
"I guess we'll find out," said forward Ben Smith, who plays alongside center Marcus Kruger on Chicago's top penalty-killing unit. "It's a big challenge for us. We're excited for it. They've got some highly-skilled players who can make some plays, and I guess we'll see who trumps who. It's one aspect of the game that will play a big role in the outcome, so we're going to do our best out there."
Chicago's effectiveness waned in 10 games from Jan. 1-18, allowing six power-play goals in 28 times shorthanded (78.5 percent). Opponents scored with a man-advantage in six of those games.
Since that stretch, the Blackhawks have gotten back to their usual suffocating ways when skating a man or two down. They've allowed power-play goals in three of their previous 12 games for a success rate of 87.5 percent (21 of 24).
"We had a little stretch there that we gave up a few goals, and we weren't happy about it," Kruger said. "But we stayed with the same system and kept working on it on a daily basis, so we found a way to get back where we wanted to be. Tonight we play the top power play in the League, so it's going to be a good test for us."
Detroit failed on two man-advantages in a 2-0 loss to the Montreal Canadiens at Joe Louis Arena on Monday, but the Red Wings are scorching hot on power plays of late. In their previous 10 games, they've scored 10 goals in 29 opportunities for a 34.5-percent success rate.
Widening the scope shows they've scored a power-play goal in 17 of their prior 26 games, scoring 27 times in 82 situations with the man-advantage (32.9 percent). That includes a 4-for-6 performance to beat the Buffalo Sabres 6-3 on Dec. 23 and 3-for-6 in a 4-2 win at the Edmonton Oilers on Jan. 6.
What makes the Red Wings' power plays so potent?
"They're good right off the bat," Blackhawks coach Joel Quenneville said after Chicago's optional skate. "They're good on faceoffs, they get to the net, they have a lot of guys who can handle it. They don't try to be fancy."
That last part is probably what makes preventing goals against Detroit while shorthanded so difficult. The Red Wings aren't looking for pretty plays. They want goals.
"They have quick sticks, so our clears have to be good," Quenneville said. "[You] try to disrupt their entries, you have to be strong in the puck area [and] clear anything loose around the net. They have great sticks and their second and third opportunities [are] probably what makes them so effective."
The Red Wings, who didn't hold a morning skate, will get some additional firepower. Rookie forward Teemu Pulkkinen, who is leading the American Hockey League in scoring, was recalled from the Grand Rapids Griffins on Tuesday. He practiced at right wing on the top line and got some looks on Detroit's second power-play unit.
"He's got an absolute bomb of a shot," Red Wings coach Mike Babcock said. "He's tenacious. He's on the puck. He's strong. In the NHL today, there's no room. We have to find ways to generate offense in no space. You have to create your own space. Being strong on your feet, being able to leverage your body is so important, and he does those things."
Goalie Corey Crawford will start for Chicago and Jimmy Howard will start for Detroit.
Here are the projected lineups:
Justin Abdelkader - Henrik Zetterberg - Teemu Pulkkinen
Tomas Tatar – Pavel Datsyuk – Darren Helm
Gustav Nyquist – Riley Sheahan – Stephen Weiss
Drew Miller – Joakim Andersson – Luke Glendening
Niklas Kronwall – Jonathan Ericsson
Kyle Quincey – Danny DeKeyser
Brendan Smith – Alexey Marchenko
Scratched: Daniel Cleary
Injured: Johan Franzen (concussion symptoms)
Brandon Saad – Jonathan Toews – Marian Hossa
Kris Versteeg – Brad Richards – Patrick Kane
Bryan Bickell – Andrew Shaw – Ryan Hartman
Patrick Sharp – Marcus Kruger – Ben Smith
Johnny Oduya – Niklas Hjalmarsson
Duncan Keith – Michal Rozsival
Kyle Cumiskey – Brent Seabrook
Scratched: Daniel Carcillo, David Rundblad, Tim Erixon
Injured: Trevor van Riemsdyk (patella surgery)
Status report: Quenneville said van Riemsdyk is showing progress in his skating, but is pretty far from returning. … If there are changes to Chicago's lineup, expect it to be with Carcillo playing instead of Hartman or Smith. … Helm and Ericsson each missed practice Thursday with maintenance days, but are expected to play.
Who's hot: Datsyuk has two goals and six assists in the past 10 games for Detroit. … Hossa has seven goals and an assist in the past five games for Chicago.