Each Wednesday throughout the regular season, Kevin Weekes will be offering his pluses and minuses for the teams competing in the NBCSN Wednesday Night Rivalry game in his Weekes on the Web blog. Weekes also will assist fans with three must-watch elements of the game.
The Chicago Blackhawks of the present are like the Detroit Red Wings of the past. Chicago is the elite team in the NHL and has been for six seasons, winning the Stanley Cup three times since 2010. The Red Wings won the Stanley Cup three times between 1997 and 2002.
Each of those dynasties had great goaltending, good defense and excellent depth on offense. Each of these teams is currently competing for a division title; Chicago is neck-and-neck with the Dallas Stars in the Central and the Red Wings are closing in on the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning in the Atlantic.
There is sure to be a playoff feel around this one when the Blackhawks (39-20-5) visit the Red Wings (32-20-11) at Joe Louis Arena on Wednesday (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN).
Here's my breakdown of the game:
Pluses: The best got better. The NHL Trade Deadline acquisitions for Chicago, starting with left wing Andrew Ladd (from the Winnipeg Jets) and all the versatility he brings, were changes that will only help them. And forward Dale Weise (Montreal Canadiens) who was having a really good season. And forward Tomas Fleischmann, who has averaged 0.51 points per game in his career. All those players are very capable of helping Chicago in different ways. A lot of Chicago's players are versatile, which allows coach Joel Quenneville and his staff a lot of options in terms of matchups, which is huge.
The Blackhawks have been relatively healthy. True, defenseman Duncan Keith missed time after knee surgery and Marian Hossa is out because of a lower-body injury. But there haven't been many long-term injuries for them.
There is no complacency in that group. The Blackhawks just do whatever gives them the best chance to win, which is what we have seen from them and it is impressive.
Minuses: There really aren't many weaknesses with the Blackhawks, which shouldn't be surprising since they have won the Stanley Cup three times in six seasons and are at the top of the Western Conference standings this season. Their penalty killing is 79.4 percent, which ranks in the bottom-third of the League, and they have allowed at least one power-play goal in seven of their past eight games.
The only other thing is the Blackhawks aren't always consistent in every aspect of their game. In addition to the penalty kill, they allowed nine goals in losses to the Minnesota Wild and Nashville Predators last week, and have three wins in their past eight games (3-4-1).
Pluses: Detroit has a great mix between young stars (Dylan Larkin, Petr Mrazek) and older ones (Pavel Datsyuk, Henrik Zetterberg, Niklas Kronwall, Brad Richards). The young players have performed extremely well and haven't really had problems integrating into the team. There's a reason the Red Wings haven't missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a quarter of a century.
Mrazek has been great in goal but Jimmy Howard has also been amazing. He made 29 saves in a 1-0 overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Feb. 21, and followed that with 39 saves in a 3-2 overtime win against the Dallas Stars on Monday. Mrazek will get the bulk of the starts if he is healthy but he is currently dealing with an injury.
The Red Wings' minor league depth has been impressive too. We know coach Jeff Blashill was with Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League prior to this season and coached a lot of the younger players, among them Mrazek, Tomas Tatar and Riley Sheahan. Now it's center Andreas Athanasiou's turn. He had two goals Monday and has four goals and seven points in 18 games this season.
Minuses: To me, the Red Wings' most pressing challenge is the fact that their defense doesn't have too much depth. They have four defensemen they can count on, but after that there are questions about what they'll get on any given night. And if one of them were to get injured it would really test the organization.
With all the star power they have you'd think they would score more. But they average 2.52 goals per game, which ranks in the bottom-third of the League. And their power play, which was second in the League last season at 23.5 percent, is down to 17.3 percent this season.
THREE THINGS TO WATCH
1. How much ice time will Andrew Ladd and the new Blackhawks get? Ladd averaged 19:27 per game with the Jets this season, third among their forwards. With the Blackhawks' depth that number could go down.
2. Does Jimmy Howard play his third straight great game? Mrazek has a groin injury and is day-to-day.
3. The Bowman influence. Scotty Bowman was a huge part of the Red Wings' success and now is with the Blackhawks along with his son, Stan, the Blackhawks' general manager. In many ways the Blackhawks have become similar to the Red Wings in the way each has developed.