DETROIT – The Chicago Blackhawks come to town for a special Sunday matinee as the only team in the NHL without a loss in regulation this season.
Though the Blackhawks come in with the league’s best record, Niklas Kronwall expects Sunday’s game will be like every other game to this point in this compressed 48-game season.
“It’s going to be a grind,” said Kronwall, the leading scorer among NHL defensemen with 17 points this season. “A lot of times we're going to have to keep it simple, get the pucks out of our zone and into their zone. A lot of times the goals aren't going to be scored off the rush, it's more off a grind.”
It’s a grind every time the Red Wings and Blackhawks meet. The Central Division foes, who have been bitter rivals for the past 87 years, have played eight straight games decided by one-goal, including the Blackhawks’ 2-1 overtime win on Jan. 27.
The Blackhawks have opened the season with points in a NHL record 21 consecutive games. They have earned a point in the last 27 regular-season games, dating back to last season, which is the third best streak in NHL history. A point in Detroit on Sunday will tie the Blackhawks with the 1977-78 Montreal Canadiens, who went 28 straight games with at least a point.
As is always the case for the Red Wings, puck-possession will be key, though an even greater emphasis to detail will be needed to stop the Blackhawks’ streak. Chicago leads the league – and by a very wide margin – with an astonishing 228 takeaways. The New York Islanders are second at 162.
Mike Babcock tinkered with the defensive six during the team’s recently concluded two-game trip to California, and the Red Wings’ coach liked what he saw from the puck-movers.
Thursday’s 2-1 shootout win at San Jose was the first victory in franchise history in which the defensive corps – Kronwall, Jonathan Ericsson, Jakub Kindl, Brian Lashoff, Kyle Quincey and Brendan Smith – was made up entirely of former Grand Rapids Griffins. The sextet made its debut in Wednesday’s 2-1 loss at Los Angeles.
“The defense is night and day different,” Babcock said. “You put Smith in and you put Quincey in, we got a good pair there. Lashoff and Kindl both skate and both are big, moving the puck, shooting the puck. So this is the best out team has looked, in my opinion, all year. Not necessarily the way we've played but the way we've looked. We're trying to figure out a way to play.”
PLAYER TO WATCH
Right Wing - CHI
GOALS: 9 | ASST: 8 | PTS: 17
SOG: 69 | +/-: 6
RW MARIAN HOSSA– Sunday’s game will be game No. 1,000 for this elite two-way player. Hossa, who played 74 games in a Red Wings’ uniform in the 2008-09 season, leads the Blackhawks with three game-winning goals this season. Working on a forward line, primarily with center Jonathan Toews and rookie forward Brandon Saad, Hossa has a goal and two assists in the last three games, and is third in team scoring with nine goals and 17 points. But don’t let Hossa’s slow stretch in February (four goals, eight points) shadow the fact that this 34-year-old is still a threat.
Season Series: 0-0-1
2011-12 Season Series: 2-3-1
All-Time Series Season: 363-264-84-11
Chicago’s Season Record: 18-0-3
Top Scorer vs. Red Wings: Patrick Sharp – 2 Goals, 4 Assists in 7 Games; Marian Hossa – 1 Goal, 5 Assists in 7 Games.
Red Wings’ Top Scorer – Pavel Datsyuk – 2 Goals, 2 Assists in 5 Games.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose
Tickets to this game and all 11 remaining regular-season contests at The Joe are currently available for purchase at the JLA box office (313-396-7575), all Ticketmaster (800-745-3000) outlets, and online at DetroitRedWings.com.