"I think there were some great rivalries from the old Central Division that whenever we go to Chicago or St. Louis or Nashville, there's a lot of Wings fans in attendance," Dylan Larkin said after the team's optional morning skate. "The rivalry between Chicago and Detroit is a great one, my favorite games to play in. It is what it is that we don't get to play them more but when we do it's a lot of fun."
Currently the Blackhawks are on the outside looking in when it comes to the playoffs but with 70 points (31-28-8), they're only five points behind the current No. 1 wild card team, the Minnesota Wild (34-26-7, 75 points).
"Obviously we're gonna get their best tonight," Wings coach Jeff Blashill said. "I've said this before, we gotta make sure we give them our best. It'll be good. It'll be a good challenge. I thought last game we embraced the challenge against Colorado, obviously playing a real dynamic team there. The same thing here.
"I think Patrick Kane's still one of the best players in the world, certainly one of the most dangerous players in the world. They've got some great leaders in (Duncan) Keith and (Jonathan) Toews, who are still real good players. Toews can still be a real force out there. And obviously some good young players - (Alex) DeBrincat, (Kirby) Dach and (Dylan) Strome. It'll be a great challenge and we should be excited about it."
Larkin and Blashill both are very familiar with both Kane and DeBrincat as all four were part of Team USA in last year's World Championships.
Kane was the captain of the team and Larkin was one of the alternate captains.
"He's been great," Blashill said of Kane. "Personally speaking, to be able to have had a chance to coach him is awesome. You learn tons when you coach the best players in the world. He's really, I think, said to the rest of the players in the U.S. that we're going over there to win this thing at some point. You see more and more guys interested in going over. I can't wait for the day when the U.S. does win it."
At 31, Kane is delivering his customary offensive output, leading Chicago in scoring with 81 points (30-51-81) in 67 games.
"He's one of the most skilled players I've seen, great hands, great vision," Larkin said. "From getting to know him past couple years at the World Championships he's such a competitive guy and he wants to play so well and play the right way for his team. To see that out of one of the most skilled players I've ever seen is a great thing to see. He's a catalyst for his team."
Blashill echoed Larkin's comments about Kane and what makes him special.
"One, he's a fierce competitor," Blashill said. "I don't know if there's one thing that sets him apart but he's a fierce competitor. More inwardly that outwardly but he loves to win and he loves scoring. He competes hard. Two, his offensive sense is outstanding and he's got unbelievable skills. You combine that all and you have one of the best players that has ever played."
Kane may be on the smaller side at 5-foot-10, 177 pounds but it is Farmington Hills native DeBrincat who truly impresses with what he has been able to accomplish at 5-foot-7, 165 pounds.
DeBrincat, 22, is fourth on the Blackhawks in scoring with 42 points (18-24-42) in 67 games.
"He's a great player, he's very skilled, funny that he's been doubted his whole career for his size," Larkin said. "He's one of those guys that every time there were goalie skates in the summer or anytime you could get ice, he was out there shooting pucks. To look at what he did in the OHL and what he's doing now as an NHL player is no surprise to me. He's always had a great shot, always just scored goals. He's always worked on it, putting in a lot of work and proving people wrong, which is pretty cool to see.
"He's a great guy and he's a little bit more fun to play with than play against because he likes playing against us and likes playing here in his hometown, so we're going to have to watch him and make sure he doesn't have time to get his shot off."
DeBrincat has four goals and five assists in five career games against the Wings,
"I like Alex a lot," Blashill said. "Really, really good person, unassuming. But again, a competitor. Very smart, I think his hockey sense is real good and he can really shoot it. The way they've got their lines now, they've kind of got it spread out and they have different threats on different lines. So it's certainly a challenge and he's a big part of the reason why it's a challenge."
ZADINA IN OPTIONAL SKATE: There were only seven skaters who took part in Detroit's optional morning skate Friday, most notably Filip Zadina.
Zadina, 20, has been skating on his own but it was the first time he had been with any of his teammates for on-ice work.
"Feeling better," Zadina said. "I think it has been way better than it was before, so I'm glad for it and just trying to get into shape and get into it with the team back again and get my confidence back again for sure."
Zadina said he suffered a broken ankle Jan. 31 in New York against the Rangers but played the following night at home against the Rangers without knowing the full severity of the injury.
"I didn't know right away," Zadina said. "It happened when we played in New York and then I did the X-ray and they said it's fine, it's nothing major, so I was happy about it, it's just like bruised or something and then the next game I played, just couldn't walk after. We did the X-ray again and it was broken. It is what it is. It's hockey life but I'm glad I can skate again, feel it and just be on the ice. Makes me happy."
Zadina had a good reason for trying to play through the pain.
"It was sore but we're hockey players. We got to play through everything, I guess," he said. "Especially I had my family here. I wanted to play the game and they could see me but it wasn't my best game because I couldn't move too much. I'm back right now and trying to get back with the team and doing my best when I'll be back."
It's often hard for players who are returning from lower-body injuries because they can't skate for quite a while, as in Zadina's case.
"I was riding the bike a lot," Zadina said. "Just using one leg and two hands. It was kind of tough. It was frustrating but I think it helped me. Right now I don't feel too much tired or too much gassed. I don't feel like I felt before because I haven't played, haven't been on the ice for 4 1/2 weeks. Right now I feel awesome and I'm real happy I can be back. So it's great."
The Wings have struggled all season to score so to lose Zadina when he was playing well was a big blow.
The young forward had eight goals and seven assists in 28 games, including five goals and one assist in the 11 games before the injury.
"It wasn't the best timing but it's hockey life," Zadina said. "It has to happen sometimes. I hope it's not going to happen in the near future, I hope. I just want to play if I get a chance again and be the player I was."
It was a happy sight for Zadina's teammates to see him out there again.
"It's good. He's making good progress," Larkin said. "He's been pretty patient. Obviously, it's tough with just coming up and getting your footing and then breaking your ankle. It's just tough timing for him but he stayed positive and worked really hard and hopefully he'll be back pretty soon here."
Now the question is how soon is soon?
"Obviously just an optional but we're hoping to get him back into full practice sooner than later," Blashill said. "He'll get evaluated tonight and we'll see where that stands. The sooner we can get him into full practice, the sooner he can work towards getting back in the lineup. I know he's eager to and we're certainly eager to have him in there."
Having already missed the last 16 games, Zadina is willing to be a little more patient to make sure he's completely ready when he does return.
"I'm just trying to get into shape and feel good," Zadina said. "If I feel good then I may come back but just want to be 100 percent ready and then come back. Don't want to be like 50 percent and come back. I want to be healthy and ready and to the best and grind again like I did before."
TIMASHOV ADJUSTING: After playing two games with his new team without practicing, Dmytro Timashov has now been able to get a little settled in town and then practice twice with the Wings.
"Of course it's nice," Timashov said. "I don't have the stress now. I'm here and settled in and getting to know the guys in the locker room, everything around.
"Of course you get more comfortable as every day goes. More practices, you get to know the drills a little bit. It just feels a little more comfortable for sure."
Timashov is staying in a hotel downtown, said he has a car and has tried some of the local restaurants.
"I've been to a couple of restaurants, San Morello, and then Ehner (Christoffer Ehn) took me to a restaurant," Timashov said. "I forgot the name. Close to the rink, Italian. That was good. But I haven't seen that much. The view seems pretty nice by the water."
Timashov has seven hits in his first two games with Detroit but is still looking for his first shot on goal.
"Of course I have to show a little bit more," Timashov said. "I've had that I came over to North America. I've always been a passer, so I have to work to have the shooting mentality a little bit more. For sure tonight I will get my first shot."