Chicago Blackhawks at Detroit Red Wings: Wednesday, 7 p.m. (NBC Sports Network)
Detroit Red Wings at Chicago Blackhawks, Sunday, 4 p.m. (Comcast SportsNet, NHL Network)
It is beyond sad that a) the Blackhawks and Wings haven’t faced off yet this season and b) the NHL has decided to jam the two games between the teams into a five-day window. But at least NBC found a “Rivalry Night” game that actually makes some damn sense. Sure, the Blackhawks and Wings aren’t traditional rivals anymore, but that long-lasting tension between the teams and their fans will always be there. It’s not a hatred like with the Blues; it’s a much healthier kind of rivalry. At least now.
The Wings team the Blackhawks will visit, then host, is one fighting to keep its 400-year playoff run alive. The team is currently one point out of the third spot in the Atlantic Division, but three points ahead of second wild card Pittsburgh and six clear of Philadelphia and New Jersey. (I know, I was also shocked the Flyers still have playoff aspirations.) Outside of the Stadium Series game last weekend against Colorado, there’s been little chatter around the Wings this season. Oh, and outside that Dylan Larkin kid. He’s OK.
More from Blackhawks News
- Blackhawks vs Flames: Date, Time, Lineup, Betting Odds, More
- Three Takeaways from the Blackhawks’ Win vs Vancouver
- Blackhawks: Why Derek King is the Right Coach moving forward
- Marc-Andre Fleury Carries the Blackhawks to a 4-2 Win vs Seattle
- Instant Reaction: Blackhawks top Kraken for first time in history
Larkin, the rookie sensation who was challenging for the Calder Trophy out of the gate this season, is actually second on the team now with 39 points. The top honor goes to longtime Wing Henrik Zetterberg, whose 41 points are heavily supported by 29 helpers. Pavel Datsyuk, while often injured now, can still go and has 35 points, as does youngster Tomas Tatar. Consistent douche Justin Abdelkader boasts 33 points, and another talented youngster in Gustav Nyquist also has 33.
The scoring is relatively balanced here, but there just isn’t much of it. After Abdelkader and Nyquist, defenseman Mike Green‘s 21 points are the next highest total. And indeed, if they were still in the Western Conference, the Wings would be run out the door in the goal total department, notching just 158 through 62 games. But they play in the East, so things are just swell.
Petr Mrazek has taken the starting goaltender job from Jimmy Howard and has been surprisingly strong. His .927 save percentage and 2.10 goals-allowed average have helped backstop the so-so offensive unit. He’s needed every bit of those numbers, as the Wings are pretty much average in every other way. Their 17.2 percent conversion rate on the powerplay is among the league’s worst, while their 81.9 percent penalty kill success rate is middle of the road.
Really, the Blackhawks are just the better team in this matchup. It’s always fun to play against the old rival, but these two games should be just like any others for the Blackhawks. Put tons of rubber on Mrazek and good things are bound to happen.
Chicago Blackhawks at Boston Bruins: Thursday, 6 p.m. (Comcast SportsNet)
Of course, there’s the matter of visiting another playoff contender between those two Wings games. Incredibly, this will also be the first time this season the Blackhawks and Bruins have met up, with their other meeting not slated until the second-to-last week of the regular season. The Bruins are just ahead of the Wings in the Atlantic Division, giving them the final automatic postseason spot if the season ended today.
Unlike the Wings, the Bruins are having no problem scoring. It’s started with Patrice Bergeron, who’s 53 points and nearly evenly split between goals and assists. Loui Eriksson is having a career season with 48 points, but that isn’t stopping Boston from seeking to trade him with the knowledge they won’t be able to afford his new contract in the offseason. Bergeron has made constant irritant Brad Marchand into a goal scorer, as Marchand also boast 48 points. Same goes for David Krejci, with Ryan Spooner (who?) adding 42 points.
More from Blackhawk Up
- Blackhawks: Three Noticeable Improvements in Comeback Win vs Blues
- Blackhawks: Key Takeaways from 3-2 win over the Blues
- Blackhawks: Grading Connor Murphy and a position comparison
- Blackhawks: Shuffling the lines to try and spark offense at 5 on 5
- These Lineup Changes could Solve the Blackhawks’ Scoring Problem
The Bruins have the third-most goals in the league at 195 (behind only Washington and Dallas), but their issue has been and continues to be defense. The reported asking price for Eriksson involves a No. 4 defenseman, and that makes a lot of sense when you look at the current unit. Zdeno Chara and Dennis Seidenberg are old, Torey Krug is overrated (defensively, anyway), Kevan Miller and Colin Miller are “guys,” and the fact this team is using Adam McQuaid as an necessary blueliner is obviously problematic. This group certainly isn’t helping the team’s 49.1 Corsi-for across all situations.
Tuukka Rask is still more than capable of saving his blueliners, but he’s been merely average this season at .917 and 2.56. The biggest storyline for the Bruins come playoff time will be how big of a temper tantrum Rask will throw when his defensemen let him down for the first time. Maybe Chara will pop him in the nose before abruptly announcing his retirement.
The Blackhawks’ speed should really be enough to overwhelm the Bruins defense, and they’ve beaten Rask before on the biggest stage. The challenge for the Blackhawks will come in the form of Boston’s strong offense, and with the Bruins getting last change, all three pairings will need to be on their toes. It won’t be quite as stern a test as Washington’s offense provided (though the Blackhawks had the benefit of last change there), but it’ll still be a good one.